Can I-35 be Fixed?
Why is I-35 through Downtown Austin the most troubled stretch of highway in Texas? Ask theDowntown Austin Alliance and they’ll say it’s because the highway denies Austin’s growth to the east – the only direction that still has space. I-35 pretty much destroyed the east-west road grid that facilitated easy movement. TxDOT’s Mobility35 deliberates reconnecting that historic urban street grid. Is it possible? So far the answer is “maybe.”
A big part of the challenge is the projected enormous population growth for Central Texas. However can we really grow like that with our limitations in transit and water? Also, drivers have responded to painful I-35 traffic—200,000-plus vehicle count per day hasn’t increased in the last few years. And according to a bleak $384,000 Texas A&M transportation study, nothing we do can reduce traffic from today’s level. Maybe the grid can be fixed — but it won’t be cheap.
Most of the $1.9 billion earmarked for I-35 through Travis County will go for the one-mile stretch in Downtown Austin, north from the river. Under serious consideration is Architect Sinclair Black’s proposal, called Cut-and-Cap, to depress the main lanes and cover them in order to add tolled lanes and provide east-west access.
Senator Kirk Watson urges immediate action, saying that gaining the money in 2014 is critical, since Austin’s 10-1 Council in 2015 may change the political climate. Also, the senator laid out an aggressive calendar for completion of the Environmental Impact Statements: 2016 for the stretches north and south to the county borders and 2017 for the downtown span. The cut-and-cap can then begin construction in 2018, the year that the Bergstrom Expressway is completed to provide a bypass to I-35. The Bergstrom Expressway will be built on US 183 east of town — six tolled lanes on the 7 miles between Highways 290 and 71. Note that bypasses won’t much relieve I-35 traffic through downtown. Only 15% of that traffic is “pass through,” the rest is local traffic.
The model for cut-and-cap is the Woodall Rodgers Freeway in Dallas, with the accompanyingKlyde Warren Park.
---Contributed by Dick Kallerman <email@example.com>