To mark the start of two projects in the Texas Department of Transportation’s Mobility35 initiative, a group of officials that included Mayor Steve Adler, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Hays County Commissioner Will Conley dug shovels into the ground near the I-35 and 51st Street intersection on Sept. 7.

“We all have our complaints about Austin traffic,” Watson said at the ground breaking ceremony, adding I-35 is one of the area’s worst offenders in terms of causing congestion.

The ceremony highlighted two projects that aim to address that: one will reconstruct the Oltorf Street interchange from south of Woodland Avenue to Woodward Street. The other project will make improvements at 51st to reduce bottlenecks and improve U-turn facilities.

Both projects are part of a 10-year plan to relieve the regional transportation system, Watson said. Wait times on the I-35 frontage roads at Oltorf are expected to be reduced by 37 percent, and TxDOT expects to see a 17 mph increase in average speed on the main lanes, Watson said.

“A few minutes here, a few minutes there,” he said. “We are making a difference in people’s lives.”

The city of Austin is dedicating $9.2 million toward the 51st Street and I-35 project, Adler said.

“It’s up to us locally to do our share for construction and road improvements in our city,” Adler said.

Conley, who is the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization transportation policy board chairman, said he is proud that area residents can say they were heard.

Project details

Actual construction on the three-phase Oltorf project will begin sometime in November, said Mike McKissick, North Austin area engineer with TxDOT.

Capital Excavation, the contractor, will reconstruct the Oltorf bridge, improve entrance/exit ramps and frontage roads, add extended entrance and exit lanes for main lanes and ramps, add new northbound and southbound U-turns, and build in updated bicycle and pedestrian facilities along I-35.

The $42.6 million project, funded by TxDOT’s Congestion Relief initiative, is slated to be complete by spring 2019.

“The main [challenge] is going to be the amount of traffic that we’re dealing with. It’s a very congested area,” he said, noting nearby Travis High School and other destinations attract many vehicles.

Most construction will take place at night, McKissick said.

The $16.5 million project at 51st will add features such as a roundabout and a collector-distributor road that will let through-traffic bypass the traffic signal. Bicycle and pedestrian facilities will also be improved along the southbound I-35 frontage road.

I-35 roadwork gets underway in South Austin New northbound and southbound U-turn lanes will be added at I-35 and Oltorf Street, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.[/caption]

Other work underway

Construction started in mid-June on a $79 million project on I-35 from William Cannon Drive to Stassney Lane that is expected to be completed by winter 2020.

“What you’re seeing out there right now is along the frontage road we’ll be having all the utilities moved and adjusted,” McKissick said, adding workers are filling in the grassy median with asphalt.

The project will reconstruct frontage road bridges over Williamson Creek as well as bridge structures at Stassney and William Cannon. TxDOT will also add new U-turns at Stassney and William Cannon, reconfigure ramps, add new safety lighting, and improve bicycle and pedestrian facilities along I-35. The roadwork is expected to improve safety and mobility by addressing lane merging on both northbound and southbound I-35 main lanes, TxDOT spokesperson Kelli Reyna said.

“We all know the congestion levels that we see on I-35, so these projects are needed and justified, and we’re happy that we’re able to do our part to help keep Austin moving,” Reyna said.