Mobility solutions on the horizon for South Austin?

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In 2017, many Southwest Austin residents are looking forward to some progress on area transportation projects that aim to alleviate bottlenecks and address safety
concerns.

A lawsuit is moving forward that could affect one notable project, SH 45 SW, which got underway in November when site work to clear the area officially began.

The Keep MoPac Local Coalition, the group that opposed the toll road connecting Loop 1 in Travis County to FM 1626 in Hays County, filed a lawsuit against the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and Texas Department of Transportation to prevent the SH 45 SW, MoPac South and MoPac Intersections projects from proceeding. That coalition has been preparing to take the transportation authorities to court again in March for a trial, according to Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, or S.O.S., and  a member of Keep MoPac Local.

“The [goal]of the lawsuit is that we have a comprehensive study on the whole toll loop project rather than the piecemeal approach,” Bunch said.

Keep MoPac Local is citing concerns about environmental protections, according to Mike Sexton, Mobility Authority assistant director of engineering. The coalition submitted a 60-day notice of intent to sue under the Endangered Species Act, Sexton said. The act provides for conservation of habitats of endangered or threatened species, including the Austin blind salamander, Bunch said.

“We need a comprehensive study on this loop before we convert MoPac into a second I-35 through Austin,” Bunch said.

In the meantime, progress is being made on other projects. Residents saw updates
Jan. 12 on the South 10-mile Comprehensive Project to add express lanes and improvements on I-35 from Riverside Drive to Slaughter Lane. Other projects on I-35 are underway as well, TxDOT Public Information Officer Diann Hodges said.

“The Mobility35 program is transforming I-35 to be smarter and more efficient. Much like the way we communicate has evolved over the last 50 years, so should our transportation system,” she said.

South of Slaughter, construction could begin next year on a long-discussed project to widen Manchaca Road from Ravenscroft Drive to FM 1626 that received funding approval in 2016.

Work is also underway on city of Austin improvements to Manchaca and Slaughter, which was named one of the most dangerous intersections in the city last year, said Upal Barua, senior traffic engineer and lead for the traffic safety engineering program for the Austin Transportation Department. The city is working with TxDOT on the project because Manchaca is a state-owned road, he said.

“We have to work together,” he said.

Slow progress for some projects

MoPac South environmental review process work is progressing on limited elements, but other activities are paused pending the ruling, which is anticipated in late March or early April, Mobility Authority spokesperson Dee Anne Heath said.

“Once we receive that ruling, we will proceed accordingly,” she said.

A study to address the bottleneck at the junction of Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 71, known as the Y at Oak Hill, has slowed after nearly five years of work.

TxDOT and the Mobility Authority launched the Oak Hill Parkway environmental study in 2012, and the study was scheduled to wrap up in 2017.

Local business owners and members of the community have given feedback to the two transportation groups and the design team at numerous workshops and open houses, one of which was scheduled for last fall but was postponed.

Work is still in progress on completing the environmental document, Hodges said.

“This is a complex process,” she said. “We respect the complexity of Oak Hill, especially the multitude of trees along the corridor. The team is taking measured steps and using best practices to ensure we do everything sensitively regarding the environment, and that takes time.”

The loss in momentum is frustrating, said Robert Tobiansky, an Oak Hill resident and board member of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods. He said Oak Hill Parkway was billed as a five-year study, and he was looking forward to the resolution of an environmental impact statement soon.

“Right now it’s just gridlock. And as every year goes by, it’s going to cost more money to build this roadway,” he said, noting labor and material costs continue to rise.

One concern for Tobiansky and some other residents is that Oak Hill Parkway is now part of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization 2040 plan, though it was in the 2035 plan.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization updates and adopts long-range plans every few years to abide with federal requirements, and the 2040 plan is now the newest plan.

“Projects that are under study or development are in [CAMPO’s] long-range plans. Because project development can take a while, it’s not unusual for a project to carry over to the next long-range plan until construction is completed,” Hodges said.

The transportation authorities do not anticipate holding the public hearing for the project until late 2017 or early 2018 as part of the environmental study process, Hodges said.

“We will continue our public engagement process to ensure the public is kept up to date on our progress, the environmental studies, and [can]provide input into the design and priorities of aesthetics elements,” she said.


Lead1-ASH 45 SW

• Status Site work began Nov. 8 and is underway.
• Next Steps Workers will finish clearing the area for the 3.6-mile toll road that will connect Loop 1 with FM 1626 in Hays County. After that they will start bringing in infill material to start building the roadway, according to TxDOT.
• Start November 2016
• Completion November 2019
• Cost $109 million
• Funding Source TxDOT grant, TxDOT loan, Hays and Travis counties


Lead1-BOak Hill Parkway

• Status The environmental study is in progress, but no new workshops are scheduled.
• Next Steps A project team is refining two build alternatives for the Oak Hill Parkway study to bring long-term traffic relief to the intersection of Hwy. 71 and Hwy. 290. A no-build alternative is also under consideration.
• Start October 2012
• Completion Study expected to be complete in late 2017 or early 2018
• Cost TBD
• Funding Source TBD


Lead1-CMoPAC Intersections   

• Status The project cannot move forward because it does not have funding, and a pending lawsuit may affect whether construction can proceed if funding becomes available.
• Next Steps The project is in the final design phase. An environmental study was completed Dec. 22 for improvements on Loop 1 at Slaughter Lane and La Crosse Avenue to alleviate traffic congestion and increase safety. A diverging diamond intersection will be added at Slaughter, and a traditional diamond intersection will be added at La Crosse. An underpass will also be constructed allowing Loop 1
to go under Slaughter and La Crosse. A pending lawsuit could delay the current timeline, according to TxDOT.
• Start May 1, subject to change
• Completion  TBD
• Cost about $45 million for construction
• Funding Source TxDOT


Lead1-DMoPAC South

• Status The Mobility Authority and TxDOT are working with local partners to improve approximately 8 miles of MoPac from Cesar Chavez Street to Slaughter Lane.
• Next Steps Work is underway on the environmental review process and updating the environmental document using the CAMPO 2040 plan model. All other activities are at a stopping point pending the outcome of a lawsuit, which goes to trial March 22.
• Start 2013
• Completion TBD
• Cost Estimated $480 million-$540 million
• Funding Source Tolls


Lead1-EI-35 improvements

• Status TxDOT is working on several projects along I-35, including the $42.6 million Oltorf Street improvement project, the $9.2 million Slaughter Creek overpass reconstruction slated to be completed this summer, and a $79 million project from Stassney Lane to William Cannon Drive, where workers expect to finish work by 2020 or 2021. In addition to those standalone projects, TxDOT plans to spend about $300 million-$350 million on other improvements and express lanes on a 10-mile stretch.
• Next Steps Construction continues on projects, and TxDOT is seeking input on the 10-mile plan proposals.
• Start Varies for standalone projects and 10-mile plan
• Completion Varies
• Cost More than $440 million
• Funding Source Mobility35 program funding


Lead1-FManchaca Road widening 

• Status The TxDOT project to widen Manchaca Road from FM 1626 to Ravenscroft Drive is expected to go out for bids in 2018.
• Next Steps  TxDOT completed design and the environmental study but will go back and evaluate the noise analysis for the five-lane road with two lanes in each direction and a proposed center-turn lane. That process will take an estimated 18-24 months.
• Start Project will go out for bids in 2018
• Completion Construction could start spring 2018
• Cost $7.6 million
• Funding Source  Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization

Manchaca Road and Slaughter Lane intersection

• Status Design is underway on a city of Austin project to add safety features at Manchaca Road and Slaughter Lane, including raised medians and turn lanes.
• Next Steps Once design is completed the city will coordinate with TxDOT to make sure design is feasible before moving forward.
• Start October 2015 (design), spring 2017 (construction)
• Completion TBD
• Cost $1.5 million
• Funding Source Proposition 1 funds

This story is one update from The January Issue. View the full list of 10 things to look for in 2017 here.

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COMMENT
  1. Opening SW45 without the underpasses for MoPac at Slaughter and La Crosse would be a recipe for incredible congestion. The Slaughter-MoPac intersection in particular already backs up considerably in the morning and evening. I can’t tell if the sequencing is “just the way things have worked out”, a lack of planning, or a deliberate act to increase congestion to build public support for the MoPac Intersections Project (certainly not, right?), but it feels backwards. In that regard, I can see Keep MoPac Local’s argument that the point of these smaller projects is all part of a single broader plan to complete Loop 1 as an actual LOOP, but MoPac was built specifically with these plans in mind. MoPac widens into what are effectively pre-made on- and off-ramps when it approaches Slaughter and La Crosse.

Kelli joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter and has been covering Southwest Austin news since July 2012. She was promoted to editor of the Southwest Austin edition in April 2015. In addition to covering local businesses, neighborhood development, events, transportation and education, she is also the beat reporter covering the Travis County Commissioners Court.
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