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.

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.

City of Austin

Construction on Oltorf Street may disrupt your commute this week.

The city has closed part of Oltorf Street between South Congress Avenue and Interstate 35 to complete work on water lines. All westbound lanes are closed. One eastbound lane remains open.

The construction is scheduled to last through Friday but some closures may continue through the weekend.

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:

Capital Metro

An off-duty bus driver committed suicide on a Capital Metro bus yesterday evening in front of other passengers. The man worked for Capital Metro through Star Tran, a non-profit group that employs the drivers and technicians.

Capital Metro issued the following statement this afternoon:

Capital Metro is deeply saddened to report that an employee died last evening aboard a Capital Metro bus from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. The employee, Jesus Rios, 47, had been a bus operator for Star Tran, Inc for 11 years, and had been placed on suspension for disciplinary reasons earlier this month by Star Tran.

Following the incident, the bus operator acted swiftly to safely escort the six passengers off of the bus. There were no injuries to the bus operator or passengers. The incident occurred in the 3100 block of Red River Street in Austin at 8:40 p.m.

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.

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.

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. 

Daniel Reese, KUT News

The Texas Department of Public Safety is reminding Fourth of July revelers to plan ahead before they party.

“If you are drinking, make sure you have a designated driver or some other form of transportation,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “Otherwise, you could be making a very expensive or even fatal mistake.”

DPS has ramped up DWI patrols and will continue to increase enforcement through July 8. The department will focus their patrols on areas they consider to be high-risk during holiday weekends.

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.

KUT News

The Austin Airport Advisory Commission votes tonight on the construction of a $5 million temporary customs building at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

The proposed add-on would open in November of this year, and is scheduled to close 24 months later. 

An airport spokesman says the extension is necessary to keep traffic flowing smoothly through the airport during this fall’s Formula 1 race and beyond. 

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/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.

Eddie Seal/Texas Tribune

The Texas Department of Transportation, which often argues that it lacks the money to properly maintain its network of roads, surprised many state leaders in March when it announced it had an extra $2 billion.

In a state with a population growing faster than its transportation system, extra cash for transportation projects was welcome news.

Update 1:15 p.m. APD confirm the motorcyclist killed this morning was a 50 year-old man, but haven't released any more details, pending notification of his next of kin.

Police say the man hit a guardrail on the flyover from I-35 to 290 just after 10 a.m. and fell over the rail onto the service road some 30 feet below. Police will keep the flyover closed as they investigate the cause of the accident.

Update: 12:05 p.m. Austin Police say I-35 is open, but the flyover from East 290 to I-35 is still closed.

Photo courtesy Circuit of the Americas

The roads of Southeastern Travis County will be flooded with people when Formula One holds its first Austin race this November. Travis County Commissioners heard from the public today about a mass gathering permit requested by the Circuit of the Americas for the event.

The track is being built near Elroy and there’s some concern over whether existing roads will be able to handle the race day traffic.

Race organizers want an attendance cap of 250,000 people over three days. Elroy resident Cathy Olive thinks the commissioners should lower that.

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