I-35 and Austin’s possible urban rail
This article from the American-Statesman on Austin’s expected bond election this November mentions an interesting study a small portion of the proceeds will be spent on: what to do about traffic problems on I-35. The SH 130 toll road around the city now complete and still rather sparsely used, the city has apparently realized the problem has not been solved, and isn’t waiting for TXDOT to figure it out.
The challenge is accommodating all of that through traffic combined with local traffic, which probably made the toll road sound like a nice idea (albeit one I doubt many are surprised isn’t working). Unfortunately, better transit service, at least in the short term, probably wouldn’t alleviate local traffic much, as it wouldn’t replace many longer trips for which people are far more likely to choose or need to use 35, to speak nothing of the ability of land uses and densities to support such service. All of this has to be done with minimal damage to the urban fabric in central Austin, a point which will inevitably be reinforced by neighborhood groups and probably some downtown boosters as well. (In its current state, I-35 through downtown doesn’t occupy a huge footprint; this facilitates some pedestrian travel between East Austin and downtown, and has probably played a small role in continuing reinvestment in near eastside neighborhoods.) It seems extremely doubtful that removing it in favor of a parkway-type road would pass muster. Even if the city thought it would be good from an economic development/livability type standpoint, the importance of I-35 as a through route means TXDOT would be extremely unlikely to agree, with the only other options around Austin being toll roads. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with; I’m no transportation planner/engineer, but I’m not seeing many good options there.
Speaking of transportation, some will notice a certain omission from the project list for the bond election: the city’s planned streetcar line, which was getting some attention several months ago as Capital Metro’s Red Line struggled to even begin operations. I’m glad I procrastinated as usual on this post, because now the city has announced it’s set to pass a resolution identifying a 2012 bond election as the funding source for the urban rail. As the city’s work on it continues, this project appears to still be a priority, but don’t hold your breath waiting for construction to begin.