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 intersection of I-35 and 51st Street in Central Austin 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 Street 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 51st Street are expected to be reduced by 37 percent, and TxDOT expects to see a 17 mph increase in 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 Oltorf and I-35 project, adding to more than $50 million of funds from the voter-approved Proposition 1, which diverted a portion of oil and gas tax revenue from the Economic Stabilization Fund to the State Highway Fund, 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 chair, said he is proud that area residents can say they were heard.
Actual construction on the three-phase Oltorf street project will begin sometime in November, said Mike McKissick, North Austin area engineer with TxDOT. Capital Excavation, the contractor, will reconstruct the Oltorf Street bridge, improve entrance and exit ramps and frontage roads, add extended entrance and exit lanes for mainlanes and ramps, add new north and south U-turns, and build updated bicycle and pedestrian facilities along I-35. The $42.6 million project, funded by TxDOT, 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 Street will add a collector-distributor road, or intersection bypass lane, that will let through-traffic bypass the traffic signal. A roundabout will be added at the intersection of the southbound frontage road of I-35 and 51st Street. Bicycle and pedestrian facilities will also be improved along the I-35 southbound frontage road.
“Construction will mean headaches,” Watson said, asking drivers to be patient while the projects are underway.
Additional information is available at www.texasclearlanes.com.