Residents got their first glimpse Nov. 13 of a proposed project that will eliminate the main lane traffic signals at Loop 360 and Spicewood Springs Road/Bluffstone Drive in Northwest Austin and add an overpass.
At the Nov. 13 open house, residents gathered around large maps of the project area and added comments on the preliminary design, which included two main lanes in each direction and one to two lanes on the frontage roads.
Several residents objected to one proposed change that would remove left turns between Loop 360 and Spicewood Springs Road West.
Amy Whiteaker, a resident of the Yaupon Bluffs neighborhood, said vehicles waiting to turn right at Spicewood Springs Road West block the queue of vehicles waiting to turn left to either Loop 360 or Old Spicewood Springs Road below Loop 360.
“In the mornings the traffic is typically back up to Yaupon [Drive], which is three-quarters of a mile west of 360, and it can take 5 or 15 or longer minutes to get onto 360 from there,” she said.
A Texas Department of Transportation proposal would require drivers wanting to make left turns from Loop 360 to Spicewood Springs Road West to travel north to Spicewood Springs Road/Bluffstone Drive, make U-turns and then turn right onto Spicewood Springs Road West. Those on Spicewood Springs Road West would have to turn right, travel almost a half-mile south to make U-turns to head northbound.
“That time [to take a U-turn]is probably going to be around the same time as waiting at the light or even shave off a few minutes,” said Bradley Wheelis, public information officer for TxDOT’s Austin District.
But not all residents want to have to use U-turns.
“This proposed change will make anybody trying to head north on 360 [make a U-turn]. There’s no way to get north; they would have to take a U-turn,” Whiteaker said.
She said she hopes TxDOT reconsiders the proposal and adds another connection to the main lanes at Spicewood Springs Road West.
“I think it could alleviate some of the northbound [drivers]if there was an overpass that went over 360 but then merged into northbound 360 main lanes,” Whiteaker said.
Congestion on Loop 360 has been increasing for years.
In 2018, the section of the highway from US 183 to RM 2222 was ranked No. 73 on the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2018 list of most congested roadways in the state. The same segment was ranked No. 17 on the 2018 Texas Congestion Index, which analyzes the length a trip takes during peak hours versus free-flowing traffic, according to TxDOT.
The state agency began considering options for improving traffic flow and in 2016 completed the feasibility study that included short- and long-term solutions for improving congestion on the highway.
Construction on any overpasses and underpasses is still several years away, Wheelis said. Public outreach will take about two years, and final design will take another two years. At Spicewood Springs Road, environmental and final engineering work is expected to finish in mid-2022, and construction could begin in late 2023 or 2024, Wheelis said.
The intersection is one of nine where TxDOT will construct either overpasses or underpasses in an effort to improve traffic flow on the western side of Austin. With an estimated cost of $250 million, the city of Austin is pitching in $46 million from its 2016 Mobility Bond to be used for four of the nine intersections, including Spicewood Springs Road.
TxDOT is also gathering input on the aesthetics of the project, including the appearance of bridges, walls and landscaping as well as what type of access should be designed for pedestrians and bicyclists. Residents can take the survey here.
“We’re being proactive,” Wheelis said. “Part of the reason people live out here is because of the beauty.”
After the Nov. 13 meeting, TxDOT staffers will analyze all public comments and take those into consideration when working on the design. TxDOT will also need to complete a traffic study to look at how any design would affect side streets, such as at Spicewood Springs Road West, Wheelis said.
Residents can learn more about the Loop 360 project and submit comments at www.loop360project.com. Public input for the Nov. 13 meeting will be accepted through Nov. 28.
Wheelis said TxDOT is also coordinating with the city of Austin, which is in the midst of designing the Spicewood Springs Road expansion from Loop 360 to Mesa Drive. That project will widen the roadway to two lanes in each direction with a center median and left-turn bays.
The city of Austin announced the final design for the $17 million project in late October. Construction could begin in 2021. Read more about the project here.