I-35

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.

TxDOT/Mobility35

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.

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