AUSTIN (KXAN) - The My 35 Corridor Advisory Committee presented its report on improving Interstate 35 to Texas Department of Transportation commissioners Thursday morning, and it shows some major changes that could be in store for I-35 in Austin -- including moving it.
The proposal would swap I-35 and SH 130 through Austin. SH 130 would be de-tolled and designated the interstate through the region.
Throughout the last two years, the 20-member committee received input from the community on how to improve the full length of I-35 in Texas. The committee separated I-35 into four segments, in order to better adapt its strategy. Austin was located in segment three.
"Texas is a big state and communities vary so much from one region to the other, and it's impossible for someone who lives in one part of the state to envision or understand all of the conditions and all of the things that exist in other parts of the state," said Tim Brown, Chairman of the Corridor Advisory Committee. "So, having that grass roots, bottom-up approach to bringing these ideas into the dialogue was an essential part of the process."
In the report, the committee separated the potential projects by priority and near-term (five- to 10 years) and long-term project (10- to 30 years). The first priority near-term project for Austin's segment of I-35, according to the advisory committee, would be to convert one lane of I-35 in each direction to a managed toll-lane from US 195 north of Georgetown to SH 45SE just north of Buda and redesignate the interstate to a highway.
In turn, SH 130 would be widened to six lanes from US 195 north of Georgetown to SH 45SE just north of Buda, and turned into the new I-35. To continue I-35 to its connection point North of Buda, SH 45SE from Mustang Ridge to Buda would also be widened to six lanes and also turned to the new I-35.
"We think there's some merit there," Brown said. "Would have to re-structure the way the existing interstate in town is designated legally and how funding is generated."
SH 130 from Mustang Ridge to I-10 in Seguin would remain SH 130 but would also be widened as well, and the tolls would be eliminated. A price for this kind of massive project was not able to be estimated.
Another near-term project in the Austin area, but fourth in priority level, would be to upgrade US Highway 183 from US 290 to SH 71 near the airport, as a full-freeway -- eliminating all the current stop lights. This project would cost about $200 to $300 million.
Some long-term road projects include: widening I-35 to four lanes in each direction from Georgetown to San Antonio, which would cost roughly $3 billion; building an HOV lane from SH 45SE north of Buda, south to San Antonio, which would cost roughly more than $8 billion; and widening US 183 from Highway 71 to SH 45SE to six lanes and creating it as a full freeway with no stop lights, which would cost roughly $1 billion.
Passenger rail was also a hot topic in taking an extra burden off the traffic problems. A near-term solution for rail service in the Austin area would be the "Lone Star Rail," which is currently in the works. It would run along I-35 and the existing Union Pacific rail lines for 112 miles. It would connect Georgetown with Downtown San Antonio. There would be 15 stations placed along the rail line, with main hubs in Austin and San Antonio. This project has already completed the preliminary engineering, feasibility and ridership studies. Key outcomes will be updated project costs and final station locations. This project would cost upwards of $800 million for the passenger train component and $1.5 to $1.7 billion in the relocation component.
Some long-term rail projects include a possible passenger rail line connecting Downtown Austin to Elgin, and a possible rail line connecting Dallas/Fort Worth along I-35 to Laredo. This is estimated to cost about $30 to $50 million a mile.
Operational improvements were also recommended that could be offered more quickly. Those would be: Incentivizing the use of SH130 for all truck trips
- Use and improve technology such as electronic signs
- AM/FM radio frequency alerts
- smart phone applications
- use of on-board vehicle communications systems to provide updated traffic information
- and develop a comprehensive traffic management system to help direct traffic away from more congested areas.
Unlike the failed Trans-Texas Corridor Committee formed back in 2003, this My 35 group relied heavily on community input, which was gathered last year in several meetings
The 20 public workshops were open to community at various places along I-35 in 2010. Of those workshops, at most 40 people showed up, however about 610 questionnaires were submitted to the committee.
The University of Texas at Austin also conducted research surveys by phone, in which 300 people were surveyed in each of the four segments, and their feedback taken into consideration.
In all this, funding is the biggest obstacle. However, according to the committee, that wasn't its
objective. It was to find solutions to the traffic problems along I-35.
The combined projects in the My 35 Plan along all of I-35 would total about $487 billion over the next 20 years, where only $155 billion is the projected revenue TxDOT has to work with. Most will have to be funded from the legislature, which is a big concern because of the current state of the deficit. The U.S. Congress, toll fees or a possible gas or motor tax are other solutions.
This comes at a time when TxDOT is saying there isn't even enough money to fund new projects for 2012. The committee suggests that strong support in funding from citizens aims toward increasing the fuel tax and possibly fees implemented for "miles traveled."
According to the report, if nothing is done on the plan, congestion problems could more than triple in Austin in the next 20 years.
As of 2010, I-35 makes up 11 of the 100 most congested road segments in the State.
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