Austin fills in blanks on $450 million bond plan for major streets


Highlights

The city, rather than focusing on a few streets, will spread $450 million over all nine bond ‘corridors.’

The work would focus on paving, intersection fixes, transit, sidewalk and signal changes.

Doing the rest of the $1.4 billion plan, including major street redesign, will depend on future bond funds.

Big changes are in store for East Riverside Drive.

Smaller changes are coming to eight other Austin roads, sometime within the next two to five years.

The city of Austin released its plan Wednesday for major corridor improvements that will be funded with a chunk of the $720 million mobility bond that voters approved in 2016. For most of the corridors, the $450 million available for construction under this bond would bring sidewalks, transit accommodations such as bus pullout lanes, some pavement repairs and traffic signal improvements.

Only East Riverside — and just a portion of the road segment placed before voters 15 months ago — will have a makeover akin to what was contemplated in the corridor plans commissioned by the city over the past few years, with protected bike lanes, added lighting and other aesthetic improvements from Shore District Drive to Montopolis Drive.

Officials are hoping to raise more money down the line to do the remaining $950 million of construction projects identified on all nine corridors, possibly with another large transportation bond issue.

The spending recommendation will be presented to the Austin City Council on March 20, city officials said, with a possible vote March 22 to initiate the design process. The city’s Corridor Program Office estimates that these changes — including 120 traffic signal upgrades, 30 intersection improvements, 75 miles of sidewalks and 40 miles of bicycle lanes — would cut traffic delays by 25 percent and collisions by 15 percent.

Mayor Steve Adler, the 2016 bond’s chief architect and proponent, said the choice to spread the money widely, rather than focusing on two or three corridors, was not a concession to political geography. Instead, Wednesday’s recommendation resulted, he said, from a detailed staff analysis of what would have the most effect on traffic congestion, intersection effectiveness for all users and improvements for transit.

“What they saw was the initial work was what was rising to the top. Everywhere,” Adler said. “Quite frankly, it surprised me.”

The more sweeping changes on the corridors apart from that section of Riverside — full street reconstruction, as well as installation of medians, protected bike lanes and aesthetic touches like trees, benches and lighting — would be part of a later phase that isn’t funded yet.

The recommended allocation of the $450 million for construction varies widely among the nine corridors in the 2016 bond package, with a high of $84.8 million on East Riverside and a low of $7.9 million on East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

An additional $27 million would be spent on engineering and design of those projects, and $5 million will go to broad plans for other corridors.

The city has yet to begin detailed design on any of the corridor projects, and thus is still one to two years away from construction. It hopes to augment that $450 million with federal grants and money from developers along those roads. But it is far from clear how much money might come from those other sources.

Mike Trimble, director of the city’s corridor office, acknowledged that the approach recommended Wednesday means that each of the nine corridors likely would see construction twice, once with the money from the 2016 bond and then, presumably, again a few years later when more money becomes available.

He said his office estimates that less than 5 percent of the initial work would have to be torn up when the more extensive street overhauls occur in that later phase.

The corridor plan made up about two-thirds of the full $720 million bond in 2016, with the rest going to some state highways such as Loop 360 and Parmer Lane, and for broader city mobility programs such as sidewalks, bike improvements, trails and street repairs.

The city, in the runup to the 2016 bond election (which voters approved with 59.1 percent of the vote), had estimated that executing the complete corridor plans for just seven of the roads would cost about $1.5 billion. At that point, general corridor plans for William Cannon Drive and Slaughter lane had not been devised, and the assumption was that the total tab would become much larger.

The William Cannon and Slaughter plans are now mostly done, Trimble said, and the East Riverside estimate is now several hundred million dollars less than the figure the city released in 2016, which includes building the new street in such a way as to accommodate a future light rail line.

“Our estimate (for all corridor work) now is about $1.4 billion,” he said, “and that’s including William Cannon and Slaughter.”

The plans for each corridor, in many cases, remain unspecific. The city, at AustinTexas.gov/CorridorMobility, offers some detail, but in many cases notes that paving, sidewalks or other work will occur on “up to” a certain number of miles on a given corridor. The city will narrow that down, Trimble said, in the coming design process.



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