AUSTIN (KXAN) — A $23 million federal grant, plus $6 million from Austin tax payers approved bond money, means $29 million of improvements to make streets around Austin safer for all users. 

KXAN traffic anchor Erica Brennes sat down with the city to learn more where the money from the “Safe Streets and Roads For All” program will be used.

Joel Meyer with the Vision Zero program in the city’s transportation department explained the federal grant program and how it will affect Austin’s roads.

The Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program was enabled by the Federal bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Meyer called it “an unprecedented investment in improving transportation safety on our nation’s roads.”

“It’s $5 billion over the next five years, available to cities and states and communities across the country,” Meyer explained. “Austin received around $23 million last week for our application for Safe Streets and Roads for All. And we’re really excited to get that extra funding to kind of continue the work we’re already doing to improve the safety of our streets here in Austin, but also do some new things that we haven’t been able to do before.”

Brennes: “There’s some new things that you guys have your eye on?”

Meyer: “Yeah, so you know, a lot of the work we do now is really focused on some of the top crash intersections in Austin.

We’ve done a lot of work where we’ve used bond funding through the last few bond cycles to make improvements at some of our major intersections. And we’ve seen some really great results, they’re seeing a 30% reduction in serious injury and fatal crashes at those locations.

So, some of the funding that we received through this grant is going to go towards things like that. But it’s also going to allow us to do things that are more systemic.

Things that are looking at lower cost treatments, like lighting, or improving ADA curb ramps, or doing signal improvements at dozens of locations throughout the city. So that’s one example. But we’re also going to be looking to do new things like a city wide lighting study.

So we know that the vast majority of our fatal crashes are happening at night and in dark conditions, so we really wanted to make sure that we had a holistic strategy for improving street lighting throughout the city, in conjunction with Austin Energy. So we’re going to be working with them to develop a citywide lighting study to kind of take a holistic look at that issue.

And then there’s some other things using technology. So we have about a million dollars carved out for video analytics, basically being able to look at dozens of locations throughout the city, recording video at those locations and using some advanced software, with some of our technology partners to diagnose some of the safety issues that we’re seeing out there.”

They’ll also be running a lighting study. While Meyer acknowledged the challenges Austin Energy is facing after the impacts of the early-February ice storm, he noted that the development period over the next few months will allow the transportation department to make sure its partners are on board and in alignment with the project.

Recent power outages from the ice storm have also highlighted the importance of good lighting after some collisions were caused by dark traffic lights.

“I think it’s something people sort of take for granted,” Meyer said. “But you know, there’s some gaps in our lighting system, and there’s certain locations that just don’t have lighting for whatever reason. And so, we want to make sure that we’re really understanding where those opportunities are, and really have a kind of sustainable strategy going forward both from, you know, a prioritization standpoint, but also a funding standpoint, and making sure all the different city departments that touch streetlighting are all on the same page.”

Brennes: “Let’s talk about some of the areas some of the intersections, stretches of roadways that you guys had highlighted in the grant application. I looked over those. Do you think those will all see some improvements, or will you have to pick through the priorities within those areas on the map?”

Meyer: “One of the great things about the Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program was that it did build in a pretty high degree of flexibility in terms of where funds could be spent. And that’s really important for a program like ours where conditions are changing on the ground.

We really need to be able to react to different changing situations and be able to do that deep level of analysis to identify, you know, where these funds can best be spent.

We have identified a preliminary set of locations based on crash history and some equity considerations that we thought were really important. And so we’ll be looking at those locations.

For improvements, we think we’re going to be able to improve around 60-plus locations with this grant. But we do have another layer of analysis that we need to do in terms of going out and taking field measurements and really understanding the crash patterns that are happening at these locations, before we really land on on the the final locations.

But, you know, one of the really important things in terms of locations that we’re trying to do with this grant is really prioritize equity. So we’ve committed to spending at least half of these funds in underserved communities in Austin. And we think we’ll probably be able to exceed that as well.

We know that communities of color are really disproportionately impacted by severe crashes in Austin. And so if we’re going to address those disparities, we really need to put that funding in those communities and make sure we’re improving streets proactively in those areas.”

City of Austin Safe Streets and Roads For All grant project description. (Courtesy: City of Austin Transportation Department)

Brennes: “Some of those areas include Burleson Road, Montopolis Rodd, Cameron Road, Braker Lane and many more located in areas deemed ‘underserved.'”

Meyer: “You know, a lot of these roadways that we’ve sort of been looking at have a lot of things in common. They were built at a time when Austin wasn’t as big as it is now. And they were originally designed as sort of high speed, arterial streets or even highways at one point.

So as we’ve seen Austin grow and develop, we’ve seen new developments come into these areas, we’ve seen a lot more pedestrian activity, a lot more biking activity. And so the context has really changed and there hasn’t really been a holistic approach to to making these streets more in line with the character, the surrounding character.

So what we’re trying to do is go back and retrofit these streets to make them more friendly to people, regardless of the mode that you’re using. So we have a lot of tools in our toolbox to do that, including better street lighting, you know, looking at the different pedestrian facilities at intersections and making sure we have sidewalks and bikeways, and things like that. But a lot of these things, we can do at really low cost.

That’s what is most exciting about this grant program is that we can go in and use pretty low cost materials and change the character of the street to make it safer for everyone.

There are certain locations where we will have to make bigger investments, and we’re looking to do things like roundabouts or protected intersections that at certain, you know, high crash major intersections. But we’re also really trying to focus on that that more systemic approach, looking at longer corridors, and understanding what we can do with lower cost treatments.”

The transportation department has $23 million granted from the federal government to work with, plus around $6 million from the city that was enabled through the 2020 mobility bond, Meyer said.

“In total, it’s around $28.5 million that will be spending through this through this grant, which is really exciting. We really wanted to give credit to the community for really supporting Vision Zero over the last three bond cycles now,” Meyer said. “Dedicating funding for Vision Zero, we wouldn’t have been able to apply for this grant if we didn’t have that local match funding. So being able to have those resources to leverage that into more funding through the federal government has been really, really great and is going to allow us to expand the work we’re doing so just thank you for the community.”

Exact locations have not been released by the city, however on their grant application, they designated some areas deemed “underserved” to examine.

That includes roads like Cameron Road around Rundberg Lane and Braker Lane, Montopolis Drive around Burleson and Stassney Lane, among many more.