Thursday, October 23, 2014

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Voters to decide on funding for I-35 improvement projects

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TWC News: Voters to decide on funding for I-35 improvement projects
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If the sun is up, there’s bound to be slow downs on Interstate-35 through Downtown Austin.

The interstate needs improvements—something the federal government typically would take care of—but Austin voters could hold the key to get some of the projects rolling.

The Austin City Council is set to ask voters in November to invest $15 million for traffic flow improvements on and off the frontage roads through Austin's core.

Robert Spillar oversees Austin’s five-year-old Transportation Department. He says the money would lay the groundwork for help from TxDOT and the federal government.

"Other monies are starting to be identified—regional monies, statewide monies—to start investing in the I-35 corridor," Spillar said.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell said that unless an area has projects going on, that federal money goes elsewhere. Projects in Austin dried up during the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act era.

That sparked efforts in 2010 to develop projects, some of which are now ready.

"You would start to see improvements at some of the major intersections along the corridor, for instance, on the frontage roads—all building toward a bigger project," Spillar said.

Spillar says the total price tag for projects needed right now exceeds a billion dollars. Improvements include more Texas “U-Turn” bridges, encouraging drivers to use the frontage roads longer and redesigning the traffic light patterns on the frontage roads.

Leffingwell worries the $15 million dollars won't be enough.

"What I'm concerned about now is falling behind on the progress that we've already made," Leffingwell said.

But he says at least starting improvements is a step toward long-term solutions aimed at reducing gridlock.

Regional Planners also want to add a managed toll lane to I-35 in the coming years. It would be free for buses and emergency vehicles, similar to what is being considered for the MoPac Expressway.

The City Council must agree on a final price tag for the bond package by Monday.

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