Construction project near the Drag aims to ease traffic issues in one of Austin’s congested intersections

Traffic waits to turn from Lavaca Street onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near the Drag in Austin.

Traffic waits to turn from Lavaca Street onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near the Drag in Austin.

In 2016, Capital Metro instituted some changes at the intersection of Lavaca Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, adding a bus-only traffic signal and a transit priority lane among other components in an attempt to ease the flow of traffic at the intersection near the Drag.

It was a worthwhile effort, said Caitlin D’Alton, a senior planner with Capital Metro, but the transit agency did not see the results it wanted.

“We were testing that out. It was an interesting experiment. It hasn’t worked quite as well as we would like, so we really went back to the drawing board to see how we could improve it further,” D’Alton said.

Nearly three years after those traffic changes took place, another opportunity presented itself to ease headaches for transit riders, drivers and pedestrians.

The Austin Transportation Department, Corridor Program Office and Capital Metro are collaborating on a project that will change the traffic flow in the area. Buses traveling north on Lavaca will now turn left on 18th Street before they reach the intersection with Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Guadalupe Street is a one-way street for traffic traveling south, so buses will then use a separated contraflow lane to pass north through the intersection with Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard using a bus-only signal, continuing their way up the Drag.

Many of the issues at Lavaca and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard result from heavy traffic coming off of I-35 and traveling west. According to D’Alton, Capital Metro bus drivers were sometimes blocked from making a left turn onto Lavaca, even with the changes made in 2016. Moving the left turn off of Lavaca from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard south to 18th will ease that problem.

“We’re able to get up to that intersection [at 18th] pretty effectively,” D’Alton said.

In addition to the new traffic pattern for buses, the project will also include the addition of a bicycle and pedestrian path along Guadalupe. Mike Trimble, the director of Austin’s Corridor Program Office, said the collaboration made sense to benefit everyone moving through the area.

“It helps everybody. It helps mobility at the intersection; it helps get the buses in a better movement to align to move north, but it will also help the other modes as well,” Trimble said.

In 2016, Austin voters passed a $720 million bond to improve transportation throughout the city. The bulk of that money––about $482 million––will be dedicated to improvements on nine corridors throughout the city, including Guadalupe.

Projects related to those nine corridors are progressing, and Trimble said the bulk of construction will happen between 2021-24. The work at Lavaca and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is what Trimble called an “early out” project––which means it was identified as a project that could be completed quickly.

The project is expected to cost between $1 million and $1.25 million. Construction will begin in May and is expected to finish in September, and the funding for the project comes entirely from the Corridor Program Office.


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