transportation

Photo courtesy Twitter user JenelleS_KVUE, http://yfrog.com/mnhspfwj

This spring, Austinite Jeremy Barta was killed when a MetroRail commuter train collided with his car while it was stuck on the tracks at a private rail crossing. Barta’s two children also suffered in the accident. The train engineer was cleared in an internal Cap Metro investigation, despite a malfunction of the train’s camera system.

In a report today, the Austin American-Statesman raises new questions about the crash. 

According to police reports, the engineer didn’t immediately apply the brakes as soon as he saw the car on the tracks:

The engineer, Kazi Adnan Jahangir, 43, applied the train's emergency brakes and sounded the horn and bells only after realizing that the white Ford Taurus, driven by Jeremy Barta, might not move off the tracks, the documents said.

Caleb Miller for KUT News

Have any issues with you fellow Austin drivers? You’re not alone. Austin rests on the cusp of the lowest quartile in Allstate Insurance Company’s eight annual report on “America’s Best Drivers.”

Austin comes in 149th out of 200 cities polled in the report, which looks at car collision frequency in order to tally its rankings. Austin clocks in a hair better than its 2011 stranding of 150th out of 200.

By Allstate’s  metrics, Austinites are predicted to go 8.1 years on average between accidents. That may not sound bad until you hear about Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which topped the time between accidents at 13.8 years. On average, Austin drivers are almost 24 percent more likely to get into an accident than the national average.

Starting this weekend, you should expect some lane closures on southbound I-35 around Stassney Lane.

Last month, a truck hauling an oversized load ran into the underside of the bridge, damaging it.

Though the Texas Department of Transportation says the crash didn’t make the bridge unsafe, it needs to be repaired – and that’s expected to take more than two weeks.

Starting this Sunday, Capital Metro and UT shuttle bus routes are changing with the seasons. Cap Metro says the changes are an attempt to improve the system and make it more efficient.

Major route adjustments will include changes to 30 Barton Creek, which will no longer serve the Barton Hills/Hollow Creek neighborhood, and the 323 Anderson lines, which changes alignment from Ed Bluestein Boulevard to Springdale Road and Tuscany Way.

Minor schedule adjustments will made to the following routes to improve reliability: 4 Montopolis, 7 Duval/Dove Springs, 19 Bull Creek, 30 Barton Creek, 101 N. Lamar/S. Congress, 151 Allandale, 243 Wells Branch, 323 Anderson, 338 Westgate/45th and 383 Research. Several Night Owl routes will also be realigned.

Gas Prices Up Again

Aug 16, 2012

Gas prices around Austin are up five cents from last week and more than 20 cents from last month.

AAA Texas says Austinites are paying an average of $3.54 for a gallon of regular. That’s one cent higher than the state average.

Political tension in Iran and increased demand from the summer travel season are blamed for the increase.

Doug Shupe is a spokesman for AAA Texas. He says analysts believe prices will probably continue to go up – but there could be some relief soon.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Capital Metro is upgrading rail warning systems at some private MetroRail crossings.

Jeremy Barta, 32, of Austin was killed and his two children were injured when their car was hit by train at a private crossing in April.

Cap Metro now plans to install flashing warning lights at six crossings. The company will install the lights at one crossing per year for the next six years – at a cost of about $200,000 per crossing.

Texas Transportation Institute

The Texas Transportation Institute wants Austinites to fill out a survey about their use of toll roads and freeways. The Texas Legislature mandated TxDOT to have the survey done to evaluate the flow of traffic in the city.

The survey asks about when, where and how much time you spend on area highways.

TTI hopes to gather data that will help them find ways to encourage Central Texans to take toll roads.

flickr.com/m-i-k-e

Gas prices continue to inch back up. AAA Texas reports they are now at an average price of $3.36 a gallon in Texas.

The average in Austin is also $3.36, a 10 cent increase over last week. Prices are still about 20 cents cheaper than this week last year.

A man who stripped naked to protest security screenings at the Portland International Airport was exercising his right to free speech, a court ruled Wednesday.

John Brennan was charged with indecent exposure after the incident, but Brennan said he stripped only after he refused to walk through a scanner and security agents found traces of nitrates on his clothes.

Here's how he described the incident to KVAL:

Imagine going into bankruptcy with billions of dollars in cash still in your bank account. That's what American Airlines did last November. The thinking was that management would gut the company's pensions and union contracts and emerge from bankruptcy ready to compete.

But then US Airways said it could take over American and be profitable, and it wouldn't have to hurt American's employees nearly as bad in the process. American's pilots, mechanics and flight attendants loved that idea.

Wikimedia

When Texas A&M left the Big 12, many assumed the rivalry between the Aggies and the Longhorns left with it.

Now the two Texas colleges are facing off again, but this time there’s a chance both schools – and the public –  could win. Yesterday, UT-Austin and Texas A&M were awarded grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop cheaper natural gas vehicles.

UT’s Center for Electromechanics received more than $4 million to engineer new ways to refuel natural gas cars at home.

Allen photo Capital Metro; Bus photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Effective immediately, Capital Metro vice-president and chief development officer Doug Allen has resigned.

“Doug resigned on Tuesday,” Cap Metro spokesperson Misty Whited tells KUT News. “It’s been something that he and [Cap Metro president and CEO] Linda Watson had been talking about for some time.”

Allen came aboard Cap Metro in 2008, and served as interim president a year later, before a national search installed Watson as the transit authority’s leader. In a blog from the time, the Austin Chronicle wrote that Allen was “the point man on recent efforts to get MetroRail up and running.”

flickr.com/bump

At a meeting tonight, the Urban Transportation Commission will hear a presentation on potential changes to Austin’s valet parking ordinance.

Currently, a valet business can lease the use of a public parking spot for $250 a year. And approximately 180 parking spots are used for valet parking downtown. But as the city grows and parking becomes more scarce, calls have emerged to reconsider the fee, which hasn’t been modified since 1999.

Talks between the city and valet operators have been going on since August of last year. Both the city and the valet operators favor a change to an hourly rate. 

STAAR Retesting Begins Today

Students across Texas who didn’t pass subjects of the STAAR exam will begin retaking the tests today.

Last year’s ninth-graders were the only students who had to pass the tests to graduate on time as seniors. Next year, the passing requirement will affect both ninth and tenth-graders. The STAAR test will continue to phase-in to each grade, eventually completely replacing the TAKS test.

Also starting next year, the STAAR exam will make up 15 percent of a high school student’s final grade in a subject.

City of Austin

The Austin Airport Advisory Commission signed off on construction of a $5 million temporary terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to expedite expected flights for this November’s Formula 1 race.

The commission voted yesterday to recommend a contract with Siemens Industry Inc. to construct “a temporary customs and immigration processing facility” at ABIA.

Although the terminal is billed as temporary, the contract with Siemens includes three year-long extensions for maintenance. In a presentation, Siemens bills the terminal as good for five years of operation.

TxDOT

The Texas Department of Transportation has just launched a new website designed to give you all the information you need before you hit the road.

DriveTexas.org features an interactive map that shows you traffic and weather conditions, construction projects and other information.

But before you use the mobile version of the website, you have to certify that you understand you shouldn’t use the website while driving.

dirtybad.imgur.com

Update (8:53 a.m.): Police say all southbound lanes of I-35 are now open.

Traffic was diverted for several hours this morning after an 18-wheeler jackknifed on I-35, trying to avoid hitting a pedestrian. The pedestrian died. The accident occurred at 2 a.m. today, Austin police said.

While both northbound and southbound lanes were closed for about an hour this morning around the 5500 block of the highway, all northbound lanes were said to be open by 8:30 this morning. Southbound lanes were expected to be opened by approximately 9 a.m.

Flickr.com/exlibris

More Texans are planning to go on vacation this summer.

A new AAA Texas survey found 75 percent of Texans plan to take at least one summer trip. That’s up from 72 percent last year.

Lower gas prices may have something to do with the increase. In Austin, a gallon of unleaded is about 20 cents cheaper now than a year ago.

Around half of those who are traveling say gas prices are not significantly affecting their plans. The survey found those Texans who are going on vacation are finding ways to adjust their trip budgets for gas prices.

flickr.com/mirsasha

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, better known as CAMPO, last night approved its MoPac Improvement Project.

The project will put a managed toll lane in each direction on MoPac, from Cesar Chavez to Parmer Lane. Toll pricing would be adjusted based upon MoPac's level of congestion at the time of use. The hope is to make traffic on the entire freeway move faster.

The $200 million project was put together by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and is being paid for by state and federal funding. The agreement between the mobility authority and CAMPO also creates an infrastructure fund. Basically, $230 million in money collected from tolls on MoPac over the first 25 years of its operation will be used to pay for other transportation projects in the area.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The City of Austin received a survey in September 2011 on the city's taxi issues.  Nearly a year later, the headaches continue. 

At last week’s Austin City Council meeting, members again debated how to get the right amount of taxis to the right places at the right time, while ensuring an even playing field for the city's three taxi companies and their drivers.    

In the end, council approved – on first reading only – the issuance of more permits to the city's two smaller companies: Lone Star Cab and Austin Cab. This week, Lone Star Cab’s franchise renewal returns to council, and Yellow Cab – which dominates the market with 400-plus permits – is also up for renewal, and additional permits.

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