Interstate 35, Central Texas’ perpetual transportation headache, would get a nine-figure dose of relief from Proposition 1, including added lanes in South Austin, under a list of proposed Central Texas projects released this week.
Four projects on the area’s clogged main vein, stretching from south of Kyle to Round Rock, would be among a dozen that the Texas Department of Transportation plans to do with $120 million allocated to the agency’s 11-county Austin district. That money comes from the $1.74 billion generated under the constitutional amendment approved in November.
TxDOT officials augmented the Proposition 1 funds with an additional $34 million already dedicated to the Austin district. That added money all went to the four I-35 projects, spokeswoman Kelli Reyna said, bringing the total spending on that highway to $102 million.
“This is really new money for us, and it’s going to allow us to make some significant improvements to I-35 sooner,” said Terry McCoy, deputy Austin district engineer.
The list, while not final, is the fruit of discussions between TxDOT and members of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board and is unlikely to change substantially, officials said. And it is only the first installment of what could be many years of added highway cash from Proposition 1.
Under the amendment, which voters statewide approved with 79.9 percent of the vote, half the revenue that otherwise would have gone into the state’s rainy day fund each year now goes to TxDOT instead. That money comes from oil and gas severance taxes and thus is subject to fluctuations in hydrocarbon prices and production levels.
The first year’s take of $1.74 billion likely will be a high mark for a while, officials have said, given the recent slump in oil prices. Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar estimated earlier this month that TxDOT will get $1.2 billion this year and $1.3 billion in 2016 from the Proposition 1 allocation. The Austin district’s $120 million this first year amounts to about 7 percent of the total.
Given the ubiquity of traffic congestion throughout the state’s metropolitan areas and on some rural interstates, the Legislature this session will consider other measures to increase TxDOT funding. The result could speed up by several years TxDOT’s $4.2 billion plan for I-35 from Georgetown to San Marcos, which includes the possibility of an added toll lane on each side through most of that stretch.
TxDOT decided that 40 percent of the Proposition 1 money statewide would go to address urban congestion, 30 percent for rural “connectivity,” 15 percent for road maintenance and 15 percent for highway repairs in oil and gas production areas. That split to some degree guided the choice of projects for the Austin district money. But TxDOT Austin district engineer Greg Malatek said that a driving criterion was that all of them had to be ready to go to construction by the end of this year.
The list includes $57.3 million to add shoulders, exit and entrance lanes and other improvements to I-35 from north of Stassney Lane to south of William Cannon Drive. That project was among several that would have been funded by Austin’s failed urban rail proposition, which would have included $400 million for several highway projects. (Voters rejected that proposition in November.)
Aside from the I-35 projects, TxDOT’s proposed list includes turn lane improvements on Loop 360 in Southwest Austin; a new overpass on Texas 71 at Texas 95 in Bastrop, eliminating another traffic light; added passing lanes on Texas 95 between Elgin and Taylor; additional turn lanes on RM 2222 at the troublesome McNeil Drive intersection; widening of RM 2244 (Bee Cave Road) in West Lake Hills and of RM 1826 south of Austin, and two road widening projects near Giddings.
McCoy said the RM 2222 project could happen as soon as this summer, timed to be done while students at nearby Vandegrift High School are on break.
The Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT, will have the final say on which projects make the list statewide. After a 30-day public comment period that begins Friday, a commission vote on the final list likely will occur in late February.
Proposition 1 in Central Texas
State transportation officials have released a list of 12 recommended projects in Central Texas that would be done with money that became available for roads when voters approved Proposition 1 in November. About two-thirds of the $154 million, which includes $34 million from another source, would go for projects on Interstate 35.
1. I-35 between Texas 45 North and RM 620, add lanes and ramp changes. $27.3 million
2. I-35 from north of Stassney Lane to south of William Cannon Drive, add lanes, wider shoulders and ramp changes. $57.3 million
3. I-35 south of Slaughter Lane to north of FM 1626, replace overpass. $6.5 million
4. I-35 between Blanco River and RM 150, ramp changes. $10.7 million
5. Loop 360 between Lake Austin and Walsh Tarleton Lane, turn lane changes. $1 million
6. Texas 71 at Texas 95, build overpass and frontage roads. $21.2 million
7. Texas 95 north of Elgin, add passing lanes to two-lane highway. $15.9 million
8. FM 448 south of Giddings, repair road, add shoulders. $2.6 million
9. Texas 21 north of Giddings, install center turn lane. $575,000
10. RM 1826 from Travis County line to Nutty Brown Road, add turn lanes and shoulders. $5 million
11. RM 2222 at McNeil Drive, build dual left turn lanes. $1 million
12. RM 2244 (Bee Cave Road) from Red Bud Trail to near Loop 360, widen road. $5 million