Fun with Highways: Austin, Texas

Some of you might have noticed that this site went dark for several days. During this time I was in the bucolic Texas “Hill Country,” away from any sort of computer and internet technology (not to mention cell phone service).

Like many out-of-state visitors, my first introduction to the area was the Austin airport. And you cannot leave the airport to either the city of Austin or the countryside without vist passing through this interchange:

This interchange connects I-35, the area's only interstate highway, with state highway 71, still called Ben White Boulevard even though a large portion has been converted to a freeway. However, significant portions are still not freeway, and as I discovered there is no way to connect to or from I-35 south of the interchange without going through at least one traffic light and/or stop sign. Indeed, this interchange between Austin's oldest and newest freeways is still very much under construction:

From the impressive site

This intersection is the worst traffic disaster in Austin. The 290/71 freeway ends about 0.5 mile to the west of the interchange, dumping all the traffic into this substandard intersection with a traffic light. But relief is on the way. The 5 level stack is under construction. Texas 71 will be depressed below grade, and the feeders will be at grade.

Austin seems to be a city awash in freeway construction projects. Several were plainly visible from the air. Again, the TexasFreeway site is an excellent source for more detailed information.

Another freeway of note in Austin is the MoPac expressway (aka “MoPac Boulevard”), or Loop 1. Texas has several so-called “Loop” highways that must use a different definition of the word “loop” than most of us. Loop 1 is mostly a north-south highway that fails to loop around much of anything. But hey, it's Texas, it's different, what can I say? Many readers might know Texas by its reputation, which has most certainly been harmed by George W Bush and his cronies. Austin, the state capital, has a separate reputation as a liberal oasis and thriving music/cultural scene at odds with the rest of the state. And within Austin, the MoPac is known for being quite scenic, at the interface between Austin and the Hill Country, and not having the usual frontage roads that track most Texas freeways. The frontage roads mostly attract ugly strip malls and other commercial developments that were almost as tacky as the televangelist I heard while driving on I-35 south – he seemed obessively concerned with identity theft (maybe he was bitter after sending his checking-account number to someone in Nigeria?), and decrying the assumption of power-of-attorney for elderly parents as a sin. If he has any grown children, I might advise them to do just that.

As my trip to the area was for family reasons, I will not go into details, although I probably will have some photos and other items of interest to share in a later post.

2 thoughts on “Fun with Highways: Austin, Texas

  1. URGENT: The LAST public hearing on shifting freeways to tollways is on:

    Monday, Sept. 10th, 6pm
    Capitol Building

    Sen. Kirk Watson and others are pushing a plan to shift Austin freeways to tollways!

    Yet, smarter options do exist.

    In the short term, the $700 million tax dollars shouldn’t be spent on toll roads as Sen. Watson plans, but instead, our tax dollars intended for freeways should be spent on cost efficient non-toll solutions such as: Variable speed limits, ramp metering, HOV lanes without tolls, reversible/barriered lanes for peak periods, parkways (like, pass through financing, more arterial lane miles, better incident management and advance computerized control of traffic signals.

    In the long term we must index the gas tax. The Texas Transportation Institute report states that more tolls are simply NOT needed – that indexing the gas tax and using the revenue to pay off bonds allows freeways to be built right now.

    Once placed, the tolls will NEVER be removed from our public highways. In contrast, the Ledge has the opportunity to index the gas tax every two years.

    Sal Costello
    Founder of People for Efficient Transportation

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