I-35 in Austin Named the Most Congested Roadway in Texas

Nov 10, 2015
Shelby Knowles/Texas Tribune

From the Texas Tribune: Austin drivers who complain about Interstate Highway 35 have been validated.

A new report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute named the stretch of I-35 between U.S. 290 N and SH 71 as the most congested roadway in Texas.


A new plan to improve Interstate 35 would add an additional lane on the upper decks of the highway between 15th and 51st Streets in Austin, according to a modified proposal announced today by state and city lawmakers

"The auxiliary lanes will give you a mile and a half to move into the main lanes of the upper deck and move those exiting to Airport [Blvd.] out of the main lanes," says Senator Kirk Watson, who laid out the new plan at a luncheon on Monday. 

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, we take on Austin’s highways. You can read Tyler Whitson's companion piece over at the Austin Monitor.

We hear it all the time: Austin’s growing too fast, and we don’t have enough housing or roads for the people already here, not to mention the million more people that will be in the region in a little over a decade. To better accommodate an influx of people and cars, new additions are being planned for several of the region’s major highways. 

But there’s no such thing as a free ride on most of these new lanes, and to understand why, it helps to do a little time traveling.

North Carolina Department of Transportation

State transportation authorities announced this week that they received the green light to build a $6.7 million "diverging diamond interchange" at I-35 and University Blvd. in Round Rock. That's an area that gets a lot of traffic, partly because it's near the only IKEA in Central Texas and the Round Rock Premium Outlets, among many other retail businesses.


Sorry, Austin – there's no money to improve the Interstate 35 corridor. At least not enough for a full face-lift, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

But as money becomes available, TxDOT says it will continue working on portions of the highway. At a media workshop today, the state agency said that by the end of the year it should move from the planning stages of I-35 improvements and into studying their environmental impact. That should take about two years. And then – if funding is available – it will be time to start implementing changes.

Four decades ago, Austin, Texas, had a population of 250,000 and a reputation as a laid-back oasis of liberal politics and live music. Today, the Austin metro area is home to 1.8 million people and has some of the nation's worst traffic congestion.

For years, the city has done little to address the growing problem. But most in the Texas capital now agree something has to change if Austin is to save what's left of its quirky character.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

This article is written by KUT’s reporting partner the Austin Monitor (formerly In Fact Daily). Below, listen to an interview with author Mark Richardson. 

Current long-term plans – such as the 2035 CAMPO Transportation Plan – will do little more than maintain the current level of traffic bottlenecks on Interstate 35 and won’t take enough vehicles off the road to significantly cut commute times, according to a report on traffic congestion on the I-35 corridor through Austin.

The report, Long-Term Central Texas IH 35 Improvement Scenarios, was done by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute as part of a study ordered by the 83rd Texas Legislature. It is a comprehensive look at long-term strategies to alleviate traffic congestion on I-35 between Buda and Round Rock.

Callie Hernandez for KUT News

In Austin, it's a constant: Traffic.

There’s recent statewide and local efforts to mitigate congestion – which will take substantial investment and extensive construction. So despite proposals in the pipeline, traffic will continue to be a slow-going, fast-growing problem.

So, it got us wondering: What are the worst intersections in Austin? 

Reconnect Austin

Austin traffic can be awful. And Austin drivers know that a great part of that congestion comes from stop-and-go traffic on Interstate 35.

Big problems demand big solutions – and the "cut and cap" proposal to bury I-35 is gaining momentum. The plan, developed by Austin architect Sinclair Black would “cut” I-35 from Cesar Chavez to 12th Street. Those lanes would then be built underground, and “capped” by something. The Austin City Council OK’d a closer look at the plan back in June.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

It’s no secret Interstate 35 congestion takes a toll on Austinites.

Out of a list of Texas’ 100 most congested roadways, the portion of I-35 running through central Austin is the fourth most congested in the state. Meanwhile, State Highway 130, out east of I-35, is open for business.


The Austin Police Department wants to curb aggressive driving on Interstate 35. Starting Sunday, March 17, APD and other law enforcement agencies will increase their operations along the I-35 corridor. The crackdown will continue until Saturday, March 23.

APD says they’ll be looking for those who speed, tailgate, pass emergency vehicles, and fail to signal or wear a seat belt.

Callie Hernandez/KUT News

Sections of I-35 and MoPac are singled out in a new report as being among the 100 top traffic challenges in the Texas.

The report (PDF) by TRIP, a national transportation research group, identifies four problem areas here in Austin. The worst and the toughest to fix, they say, is a stretch of U.S. 290 from MoPac to Farm Road 1826. The road offers no access for emergency vehicles during rush hours.

Federal Railroad Administration

The Texas Department of Transportation has moved one step closer towards the idea of using rail as an option to address highway congestion on Interstate 35. The news comes as the TxDOT kicks off a $14 million, two-year study to explore the possibility of passenger rail service from Oklahoma City to South Texas.

The study will examine the best possible options for the development of passenger trains that will connect metropolitan areas such as the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Austin, and San Antonio.  The analysis will compare different types of services, including both a new high-speed rail system and existing Amtrak routes.

John Barton, TxDOT deputy executive director and chief engineer, says “passenger rail [is] a strategic component for the future of Texas transportation.”

The rail study is partially funded by a $5.6 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration’s High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program, and a 20 percent match by TxDOT.

Callie Hernandez for KUT News

The frontage road of Interstate 35 between FM 1327 and Slaughter Lane is expected to be closed for much of the day after a fuel spill this morning.

For much of the morning, all northbound lanes of the highway were also closed in the area — causing major traffic delays.

The Austin Fire Department says an estimated 700 gallons of fuel spilled on the roadway when an 18-wheeler overturned, creating a need for careful cleanup that shut the highway through morning rush hour.

But AFD Battalion Chief Palmer Buck says, in years past, the closures would have been even longer because the department would have had to wait for the trucking company to send a cleanup team.

“The Austin Fire Department is one of the few teams that has the equipment and the expertise to do this," Buck says. "A decade ago, we would have had to wait six to eight hours before the operation even started, so we would be talking about sometime this evening before we got the roads open."

Map Data @2012 Google

Update (8:47 a.m.): Austin Police say the northbound lanes of I-35 are now open. The frontage road is still closed, however, until further notice.

Update (8:36 a.m.): AISD says Blazier Elementary School is being affected by the shutdown of I-35 - but the school is still open. The district says some buses headed for the school have been delayed, but classes have begun on time and buses are still going to the school. Buses that have not shown up to pick up students yet will be there eventually, the district says.

Update (7:53 a.m.): The City of Austin Transportation Department is controlling traffic lights on South 1st Street and Manchaca Road to give northbound drivers longer green lights.

Update (7:35 a.m.): Meantime, KUT News is confirming reports about a second incident causing delays on southbound I-35 between U.S. 183 and Rundberg Lane.

Update (7:10 a.m.): TxDOT is now waiving tolls on State Highway 45 Southeast and State Highway 130 between U.S. 183 and State Highway 71 while part of northbound I-35 is shut down this morning.

Update (6:25 a.m.): The Austin Fire Department says the overturned truck has spilled at least 700 gallons of fuel. It was carrying as much as 9,600 gallons of diesel, gasoline and ethanol. Emergency crews are trying to transfer the fuel to another trailer and have no estimate on how long that will take.

Original post (6:18 a.m.): A gas spill on northbound I-35 is expected to cause traffic delays through rush hour this morning.

Austin Police say northbound I-35 traffic including the frontage road will be diverted starting at FM 1327—that’s just north of State Highway 45.

Drivers won’t be allowed back on the highway until just north of Slaughter Lane.

State Highway 130 Concession Company

Despite setbacks, State Highway 130 is still set to open in its entirety by November. The toll road will connect the North Austin area with Interstate 10, hopefully easing traffic on Interstate 35.

But SH-130 was the victim of drought-induced damage to its structural integrity. Once-moist clay dried out and contracted, causing shifts in the ground underneath the asphalt and cracking the road on top. Parts of the 41-mile stretch of road between Mustang Ridge and Seguin need to be redone and preventative measures are being taken to keep the damage from reoccurring.

SH-130 is being constructed by a private company, acting as a proxy for the Texas Department of Transportation. Chris Lippinpott is the spokesman for the State Highway 130 Concession Company, the organization in charge of the design, construction, finance, operation, and maintenance of the highway. Lippincott says the cost of the road will total nearly $1.325 billion.

Another I-35 Accident Closed Lanes Earlier Today

May 1, 2012
Photo by KUT News

Authorities shut down the north and southbound lanes on Interstate 35 earlier this afternoon, after a pickup truck hit a small propane tank trunk just south of Slaughter Lane.

“The pick up truck caught on fire and there was a small leak from the propane tank,” said Veneza Aguinaga, a senior police officer at the Austin Police Department.  “It is typical protocol to shut down a road if we feel there is a threat to citizens.”

Photo by KUT News

The Austin-American Statesman writes about the City of Austin’s continuing efforts to improve highway traffic through its I-35 Corridor Development Program.

City of Austin voters approved funds in November 2010 for studying high traffic corridors in the city. Those studies would address short- and medium-term transportation improvements, including several intersections with I-35.

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News

The Texas Department of Transportation is slashing tolls for trucks on two highways around Austin in hopes that long-haul drivers will skip Interstate 35. From December 21 to January 4, all trucks on the SH 130/SH 45 E tollway will be charged the rate for a normal passenger vehicle.

In some cases, that’s more than two-thirds cheaper, saving some truckers almost $20.

“I hope these temporary rates will encourage large trucks and other through traffic to take SH 130 and SH 45 SE to bypass Austin-area traffic, resulting in greater travel time savings and less congestion on I-35,” TxDOT’s executive director Phil Wilson said in a news release. 

Photo by CRT UT Austin http://www.flickr.com/photos/ctr_utaustin/

In about a dozen days, you’ll be able to drive from I-35 to Ben White Boulevard and vice versa in any direction without having to get onto the frontage road. An 18-month project to complete interchanges between the two thoroughfares will be completed December 12.

Currently, three of the four new ramps have been completed. The last one will be opened with a ribbon cutting a week from Monday with State Sen. Kirk Watson, State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, and the Texas Department of Transportation’s Austin District engineer Carlos Lopez.