TxDOT breaking ground on I-35 improvements as additional funding sought

Mobility35 program improvements include paving the inside median area; modifying entrance and exit ramps;nand constructing and widening the outside main lanes and frontage roads.

Mobility35 program improvements include paving the inside median area; modifying entrance and exit ramps;nand constructing and widening the outside main lanes and frontage roads.

Sen. Kirk Watson Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, spoke June 21 about the Texas Department of Transportation's Mobility35 program.[/caption]

The Texas Department of Transportation has been making headway on its Mobility35 program to add between $4.3 billion and $4.5 billion worth of improvements to I-35 in Central Texas.

TxDOT plans to break ground June 29 on I-35 improvements from Stassney Lane to William Cannon Drive in South Austin.

During a news conference June 21, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said I-35 in Austin is one of the most congested in the state and improvements are long overdue.

“I-35 really hasn’t had many improvements since the mid-’80s,” he said. “You had little improvement in the ’80s, but for 50 years we haven’t done anything. We finally have a plan. Now we’re in the position to make some changes and make it a smarter road.”

Mobility35, which TxDOT launched in 2011 in partnership with the city of Austin, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, and other local leaders and agencies, are planned for 65 miles on I-35 from SH 130 in Georgetown to Posey Road in San Marcos. Improvements will also accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians.

Although some shovel-ready projects are in construction, the rest of the program is in its third phase of implementation—the schematic and environmental phase, which TxDOT expects to complete in 18-24 months. Final design phase will follow and be completed in nine to 18 months. Construction will start after as funding is identified.

This summer, TxDOT will host the first public meetings for environmental studies on three projects in Travis County from RM 1431 in Williamson County to SH 45 SE in South Austin. These projects include studying adding an express lane in each direction as well as additional operational improvements. An online survey for the Central Austin section is available until Aug. 9 at www.my35.org/capital.

Travis County improvements are estimated to cost between $1.2 and $1.5 billion, and various other financing options are being explored to cover the remaining cost of the program, according to TxDOT.

Projects under construction have received funds approved by voters statewide in 2014 and 2015, Watson said. So far, $110 million of the funding has been set aside for the Mobility35 program.

In addition to this funding, the Texas Transportation Commission has designated $158.6 million in Congestion Relief Initiative funding to the project, TxDOT Austin District Engineer Terry McCoy said. Other funding will come from CAMPO, state gas tax revenue and local investments.

“[This funding] allows us to put some of the projects on the ground and address some of the specific congestion areas that we experience every day in downtown Austin,” McCoy said. “Travis County is our priority section.”

The main reason for the lapse in the Mobility35 program is a lack of TxDOT funding, Watson said, pointing out TxDOT previously told the Texas Legislature it needed an additional $5 billion annually to “maintain—not fix—congestion,” on Texas roadways.

Watson said the Legislature provided an additional $300 million via Rider 42, which was used to study the 50 most congested roadways in Texas. He estimates about $30 million was set aside for I-35. He said the city of Austin also contributed additional funding. He discussed other funding options at a May 26 luncheon.

Improving I-35

The completed Mobility35 program would improve six of the top 100 congested roadways, including the segment between Hwy. 290 and SH 71, which ranked No. 1 in 2015, according to TxDOT. On that segment during peak daytime hours, TxDOT reported I-35 is congested for six hours daily. By 2040, TxDOT estimates the same segment will increase to nine hours of traffic congestion because the Austin-area population is expected to increase from 2 million to 3.8 million by 2040.

McCoy said the planned improvements are estimated to significantly increase downtown I-35 speeds from 13 to 51 mph during morning peak periods and 9 to 46 mph during afternoon peak periods. The speed estimates of 9 mph and 13 mph reference if improvements were not made under the “no-build” option for 2025.

TxDOT Public Information Officer Kelli Reyna said improvements are also needed for safety reasons. More than 200,000 vehicles travel on I-35, and 86 percent are headed to and from Travis, Williamson and Hays counties.

McCoy said innovative designs are being used for Mobility35, including at the intersections. Projects will include diverging diamond intersections, roundabouts and intersections with median U-turns.

“The ramps worked fine, probably, when I-35 was originally constructed, but they don’t work well now,” McCoy said. “A lot of times they act as impedances, so we’re reducing the number of ramps we have.”

TxDOT is also proposing to modify frontage roads and implement intersection bypass lanes. McCoy gave an example of being able to go under Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to bypass the intersection and access 15th Street without being on the I-35 main lanes.

“That’s really localized capacity, similar to what we have in the southbound direction as you exit at MLK,” he said.

Express lanes will also be added “as the corner piece of the program,” McCoy said.

Other aspects of the Mobility35 include improved traffic management systems, new traffic cameras and dynamic message signs to improve communication with motorists and help reduce congestion. The HERO Program, which assists stranded motorists, would also be expanded.

More information about the Mobility35 Program and projects is available at www.my35.org/capital.


The Electric Reliability Council of Texas twice issued calls for power conservation this spring but has said it is prepared to manage the potentially record-breaking statewide demand for electricity through the summer. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legislature passes power reforms as Texas grid is prepped for potentially record-breaking summer demand

The Texas Legislature wrapped up its spring session with the passage of several bills related to the power grid ahead of the system's next seasonal test this summer.

Photo of a pending sale sign
Southwest Austin median home price exceeds $600,000 for second month

While prices have reached a new record, the rate of increase has slowed from previous months.

The Central Health PUD site is currently being cleared to pave the way for future development. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Central Health's downtown innovation district planned unit development project approved, campus cleared for potential redevelopment

The 14-acre site located between I-35 and Waterloo Park could be redeveloped as a walkable, mixed-use commercial hub.

Mama Fried is a new food truck located at the Armadillo Den on Menchaca Road in South Austin. (Courtesy Evan LeRoy)
Southwest Austin business news: New distillery, float spa, Merle Haggard-inspired french fry trailer coming soon

Mama Fried, from the team behind Leroy and Lewis barbecue, will open at the Armadillo Den in South Austin in July.

West Austin's Lions Municipal Golf Course was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016 due to its significance in the civil rights movement as the first Southern golf course to desegregate. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austinites share their hopes for Muny golf course's future

The Lions Municipal Golf Course is part of a University of Texas-owned property that may be rezoned by the city of Austin over the coming months.

Waterloo Park will open to the public Aug. 14 with a daylong festival, and its Moody Amphitheater is set to host its first ticketed concert Aug. 20. (Courtesy Waterloo Greenway Conservancy)
PHOTOS: Waterloo Park will open Aug. 14 with full-day festival, host Gary Clark Jr. for first ticketed concert Aug. 20

The 11-acre park on Waller Creek features an amphitheater, trails, gardens, play spaces, and a food truck area.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced a special legislative session will begin July 8. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gov. Greg Abbott announces special legislative session to start July 8

Agenda items will be announced before the session begins, according to a release from the governor's office.

Photo of fireworks in downtown Austin
Austin June and July events: fireworks, gallery openings and more

The Austin Symphony's Fourth of July fireworks show is back this year at Vic Mathias Shores.

Photo of an outdoor fort art exhibit
'Fortlandia' art installation coming to Butler Hike and Bike Trail

The interactive outdoor art exhibit was originally part of the popular "Fortlandia" event at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 2020.

The Lions Municipal Golf Course is part of one of four University of Texas-owned properties that could move through Austin's rezoning process over the coming months. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Public feedback process now open for rezoning of 4 UT-owned properties, including West Austin's Muny golf course

An initial public engagement session covering the Brackenridge tracts, where Muny is located, will be held June 21.

The Office of Police Oversight released its first comprehensive report detailing its operations though 2019 and 2020 this June. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Office of Police Oversight report finds complaints against Austin police officers went up, but discipline fell in 2020

The new report centers on the office's three main functions, including tracking APD officer discipline, reviewing the city's police policies, and engaging with Austin residents.