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.

Capital Metro

Capital Metro is holding a ceremonial groundbreaking  for its MetroRapid service this morning. Construction on the rapid bus line’s first station started this week.

As KUT News previously reported, MetroRapid will launch in 2014 with two rapid bus routes. One will stretch from the Tech Ridge Park & Ride to the Southpark Meadows shopping center. The other route will run from North Austin Medical Center at Parmer Lane to Westgate Mall off South Lamar Boulevard. The lines will converge midpoint, around the UT-Austin campus area.

Cap Metro will add 40 new buses to its fleet, including 20 buses that span 60 feet and have 58 seats. Still, Cap Metro says 2013 will be a lean year for the company as it makes some repairs and upgrades.

A new toll road is opening soon in Central Texas, stretching from Austin to the town of Seguin, outside of San Antonio.

State Highway 130 was built to relieve traffic along neighboring Interstate 35, one of the most congested roadways in Texas. But this stretch of toll road has a draw of its own: It recently had its speed limit approved at 85 mph, the fastest in the nation.

The dream of barreling down an open road at 85 mph is undoubtedly appealing to gridlock-prone Texas motorists. (Portions of SH 130 are already open - with a slightly lower speed - but have seen relatively scant traffic.)

Hoping that dream doesn’t turn into a nightmare is Russ Rader, spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a non-profit highway research group funded by the auto insurance industry. He notes that speed limits have been on the increase for some time.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) names several Austin roads in its list of the "100 Most Congested Roadway Segments in Texas" today. One of the local offenders, clocking in at 68th worst, is State Loop 343.

Now who can tell us where SL 343 is?

Once you learn, you won’t be surprised by the loop's inclusion on this gridlocked list: SL 343 is the whole of South Lamar Boulevard. Starting at its southern limit at SH 71 and US 290, SL 343 travels north, turning east at First Street/Cesar Chavez, until it ends at I-35.   

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.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Hurricane Isaac is affecting gas prices across the state.

The average price of a gallon of unleaded is going for $3.66 in Austin – that's up ten cents from last week.

AAA Texas says the main reason for the price increase is that several refineries along the Gulf Coast closed before Isaac hit land. But analysts say gas prices will come down if the refineries re-open without storm damage.

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.

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.

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