Transportation

Traffic, public transit, congestion, road construction and closures, I-35, MoPac, US 290, US 183, Ben White Blvd, and policy and planning issues related to transportation and mobility in Austin and the Central Texas counties of Travis, Hays, Caldwell, Bastrop and Williamson.

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT

We've all felt Austin's growing pains: traffic, high rents, rapidly rising home values, and the higher property taxes that come with them. And we tend to drown these pains in queso and beer, so we're probably putting on some weight, too. But what if there were an easy way out of all of this?

Some Austinites, like Mike Melanson, have found one. "A congestion-free way of getting around, a way that doesn't cost me money, a way that helps my health," he says. For much of the last ten years, he's relied on a 19th century technology to move about Austin: the bicycle. 

Spencer Selvidge/KUT News

Austin's bus system got two new lines last year, called MetroRapid. They're generally larger, run more frequently, have fewer stops (to run faster) and offer some amenities not found on the city's local buses, like WiFi. More than a million trips have been taken on the new rapid bus lines. They also have a higher price: A ride on one of Capital Metro's MetroRapid buses costs $1.75, as opposed to $1.25 for a ride on their local alternatives. 

But these rapid buses supposedly justify that higher price by getting you around faster. Capital Metro labels it a "premium" service, and one advantage they're supposed to have is they can hold green lights longer at intersections outside of downtown, extending the time before a light turns red and allowing the rapid bus to get through in time. "Special technology allows all MetroRapid vehicles to catch more green lights to stay on schedule," Capital Metro says on its website.

TxDOT

I-35 is closed in both directions just south of Salado, a town about 60 miles north of Austin, after an oversized tractor-trailer struck the FM 2484 overpass bridge under construction. The Texas Department of Transportation says the impact caused several beams to fall onto the highway. 

Terrence Henry/KUT News

SXSW Interactive has come to a close, and one big trend this year was connected car technology — that could be anything from your car knowing a light's about to turn red to a vehicle completely driving itself. 

Next week, a car will hit the road on a cross-country drive from San Francisco to New York. Except this car won’t have a driver. Let's take a look at where self-driving car technology is today, and the possible places it could take us. Listen to the story: 

Terrence Henry/KUT News

There are a lot more options for getting around Austin these days other than driving your own car, and even more apps and technology to help you navigate those options. But some of the big investors in this new technology may surprise you. They aren't just coming from Silicon Valley — Detroit and others in the auto industry are getting in on the action as well.

Take the Austin-based RideScout, for example. "RideScout is essentially the Kayak of ground transportation," says Joseph Kopser, RideScout CEO. Kopser is a veteran who came to SXSW a few years back with an idea: What if you could take something like transportation and mobility, and make it as easy as booking a flight or hotel room?

Daniel X O'Neill/Flickr

Just before the SXSW onslaught, Lyft has agreed to a deal making it the first ridesharing service allowed at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Terrence Henry/KUT News

It’s one of the biggest bottlenecks in town, a place where cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians all squeeze into just four travel lanes, and where the University of Texas begins to merge with downtown – a street aptly named "The Drag."

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Starting today, there's a big change in Austin's transit system. It's not a big new train or shiny new buses, it's something much smaller, so small you can fit it in your phone. And this tiny new product could mean big improvements for Capital Metro riders.

It's called real-time info, and what it means is that riders will now know exactly where their bus is. If it's early, if it's late, or if it's on time – now you'll know.

Jeff Heimsath/KUT News

Capital Metro is planning some big improvements for MetroRail, the city’s only rail transit line. But one of the big-ticket items on that list of improvements – a plan for a permanent downtown station with a price tag of over $30 million – is being criticized by some as unnecessary and ill-suited to the city's transit needs.

MetroRail (also known as the Red Line) got off to a rough start when it launched in 2010, starting several years late and tens of millions of dollars over budget. Still, it's managed to attract more and more riders in the years since, and a typical weekday rush hour these days on the Red Line is standing room only.

But the service is hampered by several factors. 

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

Mass transit is a very small slice of the Austin transportation pie. On average, only about four percent of people in the greater Austin area use transit to get to work. In Portland, it’s three times that. And Austin's transit use suffered a significant drop last year. So what can Capital Metro do to turn things around?

Let's start with the bulk of Capital Metro's system: the bus.

"I think we are on the cusp of making a significant step in the right direction," says Todd Hemingson, Vice President of Strategic Planning and Development at Capital Metro. The agency has laid out several goals for the years ahead, and one of them is adding frequency to some of the city's most popular bus routes.

Spencer Selvidge for KUT News

This is the first in a two-part series on transit use in Austin. Read Part Two: After Ridership Drops, Where Does Cap Metro Go From Here?

Austin is one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country. Over the last five years, the population in the city limits has increased by nearly a 100,000 people, an 11 percent increase. In the larger region, the growth is even greater. But there’s one part of the city that isn’t growing: transit ridership. Let's take a look at what's behind that trend, in the first of a two-part series on transit use in Austin.

"Ridership has not increased as much as our city has grown," says Jace Deloney, chair of the Urban Transportation Commission, a city board that advises on transportation issues. "We haven't kept up in terms of providing transit service to the people that are moving here."

TSA/tsa.gov

Three Texas airports made the Transportation Security Administration's 2014 top ten list for firearm confiscation at security checkpoints.

Dallas-Fort Worth was at the top of the list; 120 guns were discovered in travelers' carry-on luggage at DFW airport in 2014. Over in Houston, George Bush Intercontinental came in at No. 4 with 77 confiscations, and William P. Hobby airport was at No. 6 with 50 confiscations for the year.

Overall the TSA discovered a record number of guns in carry-ons at U.S. airports last year: 2,212 firearms were confiscated, roughly an average of six per day. Eighty-three percent of those were loaded at the time.

hyperloop
wikimedia commons

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced today that he plans to build a test version of his Hyperloop transit system, and that test loop will likely be built in Texas.

Musk announced plans for a Hyperloop in California in 2013. The high-speed transit system would move at rates up to 800 miles per hour, potentially cutting the five-plus hour drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles down to about an hour.

The test track potentially in the works for Texas would be a five-mile loop, Musk said. One trip around that loop would take about 22.5 seconds.

Courtesy of Capital Metro

Austinites taking public transportation will see a hike in bus and rail fares next week. Starting Jan. 11, fares are going to go up on Capital Metro mass transit.

For bus-goers, what cost just fifty cents six years ago will now cost $1.25. Capital Metro is increasing the base fare for rides on local bus routes this winter, a 25 percent increase. Fares are also going up for what the agency calls its premium buses, like MetroRapid, to $1.75 per ride. Additionally, a trip on the Metrorail Red Line will now cost you $3.50 each way, up from $2.75.

Rescue crews scouring the waters off Indonesia say they have found dozens of bodies and have spotted wreckage that belongs to AirAsia QZ8501, the jetliner that went missing Sunday, carrying 155 passengers and seven crew members.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. quotes an Indonesian navy spokesman:

Via Mark Stevens, flickr.com/photos/14723335@N05/

From the Austin Monitor:

Plans to convert downtown’s Seventh, Eighth, Brazos and Colorado streets from one-way to two-way streets are underway.

On Monday, City Council’s Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee heard a presentation on a timeline for the change from acting Transportation Department Assistant Director Jim Dale.

“A lot of cities have gone through this process, of being two-way initially, then going to one-way to help move capacity to move a lot more vehicles,” said Dale. “But as we start to look at the pedestrian realm and looking at the complete streets … the two-way conversion does lend itself to a more pedestrian-friendly environment, with a tendency to slow down traffic.”

Google Maps

Millions of Texans are taking to the road and skies this year for Thanksgiving travel, and for the first time, Austinites will have some new data to help them decide when to head out on the highway. They'll need it, because Austin has the second biggest increase in traffic during Thanksgiving week in the entire country, according to Google.

After crunching the numbers from their mapping data from the last few years, Google Maps has some advice for you: Leave. Now. Before it's too late. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Earlier this year, Austinites got a warning from their mayor: Pass a proposed light rail line, or face certain doom. There was no "Plan B," voters were told. 

"Here's the basic equation," Mayor Lee Leffingwell said in his State of the City address, "Rail or fail." 

Austin voters chose the latter option this election, saying "No" to a billion-dollar light rail and road improvements proposal by a wide margin, 57 percent voting "No" and 43 percent voting "Yes." The proposal garnered a lot of interest, with 15,000 more Austinites voting on it than on the race for Mayor of Austin.

Contrary to what you might have heard, this was technically the first time a rail plan has been voted down within city limits. So what happened? How did a supposedly progressive, typically bond-approving city electorate shoot down something so strongly?

Spencer Selvidge/KUT News

From The Austin Monitor:

City Council Member and Austin mayoral candidate Mike Martinez is looking to pitch multiple bus rapid transit lines as the next major transportation investment for the area.

In an interview with the Monitor, Martinez nodded to the work done by Project Connect – efforts that led to a $600 million rail bond question that was defeated at the ballot Nov. 4. In addition, if he can get the support, he would like to try a pilot program that would make bus ridership free for a year.

“The bottom line is Prop 1 failed, and citizens spoke loud and clear on rail,” Martinez said. “So I think it’s time we embrace bus service and take it to a whole new level. We have to become the best bus-serviced city in the entire country.”

Update: The constitutional amendment to take some oil and gas tax revenues and direct them towards road project funding passed by a wide margin – 79.78 percent for to 20.21 percent against.

"Passing Proposition 1 was just the first step in addressing the transportation funding shortfall in Texas," said Scott Haywood, President of Move Texas Forward, which pushed for the measure. "We look forward to continue working with our coalition partners as we fight for the additional funding for transportation that will move Texas forward.”

Original Story (Nov. 4, 12:21 p.m.): So much digital ink and airtime has been spilled over Austin's rail and roads proposition (commonly known as Austin's Prop 1), which would add a billion dollars in city debt to build a starter light rail line and improve state roads. But that isn't the only transportation item on the ballot this year. There's also a statewide proposition (also commonly known as statewide Prop 1) that could have an impact on Texas roads. 

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