Stretching dollars: What would Austin transportation bond pay for?


The city of Austin’s $720 million transportation bond proposition, for all of its detail, remains something of a black box for the voters who will be deciding what to do between now and Nov. 8.

And perhaps the dimmest corner of that box will be at its center, the $482 million “smart corridors” piece.

City officials have studies outlining the recommended improvements on six of the nine corridors, with a seventh one in the works. The plans call for overhauling major roadways with added bike lanes, wider sidewalks, curb cutouts for buses and traffic signal upgrades, among other things.

But the price tag for those projects is an estimated $1.56 billion — three times the amount allocated for those corridors in the bond package.

That estimate includes the project costs as well as the “soft costs” of inflation, bond issuance fees and project oversight, officials said. It doesn’t account for the improvements to William Cannon Drive and Slaughter Lane, which have not been studied yet.

So if the bonds are approved, the city staff and City Council would face tough choices about how to allocate $482 million among eight or nine corridors — and which elements of the plans to build and which to put off for later.

Mayor Steve Adler, whose office was the moving force behind the bond proposition, said the city would follow the priorities set out in a resolution passed by the council Aug. 18: congestion relief, intersection improvements for people using all modes of travel and “connectivity,” particularly to transit.

“The money needs to be spent where it’s going to do the most good and have the most impact,” said Adler. “What we’re going to see is this money not being spread like peanut butter across the corridors, but rather forcing us to identify the projects that do the most on those priorities.”

So what could residents expect out of the proposed bond package, which is estimated to cost the typical homeowner at least $60 a year?

The corridor plans, in some cases, envision an extra car lane or turn lanes. In other cases, they call for the loss of a car lane to provide bike lanes or dedicated bus corridors. All of the studies estimate that years from now the changes would reduce the time that drivers would otherwise be idling on these roads. But at least some of those calculations were made under the assumption that improvements will encourage more people to ride a bike, walk or take the bus instead of using their car.

It’s too early to say exactly which corridor improvements would be done. But based on an American-Statesman review of data — the completed studies on six corridors, what is available on the ongoing study of Guadalupe Street, and other city documents — here is what the studies call for:

AIRPORT BOULEVARD

Corridor interval and length: North Lamar Boulevard to U.S. 183, 6.5 miles

Study completed: February 2014

Total cost estimated by city staff: $151 million

Lanes closures in plan? Unclear. The study says a six-lane section near Mueller likely would stay that way. But in another section, it shows a cost estimate for creating a four-lane segment between Interstate 35 and Manor Road. In any case, through most of the project, the center-turn lane would be replaced with a grassy median.

Most recent traffic counts: 17,000 to 38,000 vehicles a day

Forecast for the future: The study says that with no changes, the wait time at East 51st Street in evening rush hour would reach 154 seconds by 2030. With the changes, the authors estimate, afternoon waiting times at that light would be 42 seconds. In this and the other studies, the consultants did not explain how these time savings were calculated.

Noteworthy: The study contemplates installing six “pedestrian hybrid beacons” — or crosswalks where people on foot can activate a red light to stop traffic. The studies recommend eliminating free right turns at U.S. 290/Koenig Lane “to slow traffic in the turns.” The study also contemplates a variety of turn lane changes at intersections, protected bike lanes in each direction, drainage improvements and added turn bays at intersections throughout the corridor.

What is currently a five-lane road with a continuous turn lane would generally become a four-lane road with turn bays at intersections. The authors predict that by improving bicycle and pedestrian access, transit ridership would increase and thus “reduce the traffic on Airport Boulevard.” The plan also contemplates consolidating various driveway entrances for businesses.

The city owns the road from Lamar to I-35, and the Texas Department of Transportation owns the southern half, from the interstate to U.S. 183. So to make the planned changes, the city might have to take over ownership — and thus ongoing maintenance — of more than 3 miles of the road.

NORTH LAMAR BOULEVARD

Corridor interval and length: U.S. 183 to I-35, 6 miles

Study completed: December 2013

Total cost estimated by city staff: $169 million

Lane closures in plan? Yes. The four-lane section from Parmer Lane to Howard Lane would become three lanes — one in each direction, along with a center turn lane — as part of a “road diet” that allows room for bike lanes. Through the rest of the project, the center-turn lane would be eliminated and replaced with a raised, vegetated median with left-turn bays at intersections.

Most recent traffic counts in plan: 36,000 a day near U.S. 183; 6,000 a day near Howard Lane.

Forecast for the future: Even with the changes, the congested Rundberg Lane intersection in 2035 would still get a failing grade, the study says, but the waiting times would be cut in half from about three minutes to 90 seconds.

Noteworthy: The plan includes adding eight-foot-wide bike lanes on each side; a vegetated median; nine pedestrian beacons; added right-turn lanes at Braker Lane; dual left-turn lanes at Rundberg, Braker and Parmer lanes; wider sidewalks; bus pullouts and bus shelters; and drainage improvements. South of Parmer — what is currently a five-lane road with a continuous turn lane — would generally become a four-lane road with turn bays at intersections and selected intervening spots. Some commercial sections have many driveways that are difficult for pedestrians to cross safely, and these would be consolidated. TxDOT owns and controls all of this section of North Lamar.

SOUTH LAMAR BOULEVARD

Corridor interval: Riverside Drive to Ben White Boulevard, 3.3 miles

Study completed: April 2016

 

 

 

 

Most recent traffic counts in plan: 38,500 a day south of Riverside Drive, 31,780 near Brodie Oaks shopping center.

Forecast for the future: If the changes are not made, the plan says, the afternoon rush hour delay in the year 2035 would be 164 seconds at Barton Springs Road, 50 seconds at Oltorf Street and 19.3 seconds at Manchaca Road. With the changes, the delay would decrease by 90 seconds at Barton Springs, 23 seconds at Oltorf and 4 seconds at Manchaca.

Noteworthy: The plan recommends converting South Lamar to a “complete streets” profile, with protected bike lanes (rather than the current five-foot-wide lanes adjacent to traffic), a center median and continuous, wider sidewalks. There might also be bus pullouts to get them temporarily out of the way during passenger stops (although Capital Metro has objected to this), a lower speed limit, a ban on left turns during peak periods and “adaptive” traffic signals that adjust timing to the actual traffic load. The plan also recommends adding traffic signals at Collier Street and Del Curto Road.

BURNET ROAD

Corridor interval: Koenig Lane to MoPac Boulevard, 5 miles

Study completed: December 2013

Total cost estimated by city staff: $185 million

Lane closures in plan? No lost primary travel lanes. But through most of the project, the center-turn lane would be replaced with a raised, vegetated median.

Most recent traffic counts: 37,000 a day near U.S. 183; 23,000 a day near MoPac Boulevard.

Forecast for the future: The proposed changes, the study says, would improve the intersection ratings at Koenig, Braker and Kramer Lane in 2035 from failing “E” and “F” grades to an acceptable “B,” with delays below 20 seconds.

Noteworthy: The plan includes adding eight-foot-wide bike lanes on each side, a vegetated median, seven pedestrian-activated crosswalks, right-turn lanes at Koenig and Braker lanes, a longer left-turn bay at Koenig, dual left turn lanes at Braker, wider or additional sidewalks, bus shelters and drainage improvements. About half of the corridor lacks sidewalks (primarily north of U.S. 183) in an area where, the study says, 13 percent of residents have no car. TxDOT owns and controls the section of the corridor north of U.S. 183. The city owns the southern piece.

EAST RIVERSIDE DRIVE

Corridor interval: I-35 to Texas 71, 3 miles

Study completed: December 2013

Total cost estimated by city staff: $766.7 million

Lane closures in plan? Yes. The current six lanes would be reduced to four through most of the road to allow for “high capacity transit,” either rail or rapid bus lanes, along with parking, bike lanes and 12- to 15-foot-wide sidewalks.

Most recent traffic counts: 46,000 a day in 2011 near I-35, about 18,500 at Montopolis Drive.

Forecast for the future: The plan estimates average rush hour speeds in 2035 of about 10 mph if the changes are not made. If they are, the plan estimates morning rush hour speeds would by about 70 percent faster and about 16 percent faster in the afternoon peak period.

Noteworthy: The 277-page study talks of converting East Riverside from a “through” road (connecting I-35 and Texas 71) to a “to” road, a place where people will want to go. Doing so, the plan says, would require the wider sidewalks and protected bike lanes in both directions, five pedestrian-activated crosswalks, on-street parking on East Riverside, dual left-turn lanes at several locations, and mass transit running in the middle two lanes.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. BOULEVARD/FM 969

Corridor interval: U.S. 183 to Decker Lane, 2 miles

Study completed: February 2014

Total cost estimated by city staff: $72.6 million for the U.S. 183 to Decker Lane portion only

Lane closures in plan? No. The plan proposes widening MLK Boulevard/FM 969 from its current four lanes to six lanes west of Decker, and from two lanes to four lanes east of Hornsby Bend.

Most recent traffic counts: 29,350 a day east of U.S. 183, 16,000 near Texas 130, and 4,450 near Hornsby Bend, according to 2014 TxDOT data.

Forecast for the future: The added lanes, the study says, would provide capacity for what is expected to be brisk housing development east of U.S. 183 over the next 20 years. The changes would reduce morning rush hour delays at Decker and at FM 973 by 20 to 33 percent, the study says.

Noteworthy: The study covered a much longer, 10.9-mile interval from U.S. 183 to the community of Webberville, but the bond election concerns only the westerly 2 miles from U.S. 183 to just east of Decker Lane, the portion within the Austin city limits. City officials say the substantial cost of expanding and changing the road in the other 9 miles outside the city, to the extent it ever occurs, would be covered by TxDOT and Travis C0unty. The plan recommends adding bike lanes and sidewalks in the western half, from U.S. 183 to Texas 130, for a “superstreet” design.

GUADALUPE STREET

Corridor interval: Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to West 29th Street, 1 mile

Study completed: Not yet finished

Total cost estimated by city staff: $108.7 million

Lane closures in plan? Possibly. A “preferred alternative” presented at a May public meeting would allocate to transit buses one of the two existing lanes in each direction.

Most recent traffic count: City traffic counts more than a decade ago showed 28,000 to 30,000 vehicles a day.

Forecast for the future: None available at this point.

Noteworthy: This study, initiated in 2014, is still in progress. A May 2016 presentation included only general information. A final version is several months away, the study website says. It is unclear if a final version of the study will be available before the Nov. 8 vote on the bonds.

WILLIAM CANNON DRIVE AND SLAUGHTER LANE

The city has not begun studies on these two South Austin arteries, which were included in the “smart corridor” portion of the bond proposal only after Council Member Ann Kitchen, who represents part of South Austin, pushed for them. If the bond proposition is approved, a study on both of these roads would occur and at least some of the $482 million for corridor construction would be allocated to one or both of the roads.



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