AUSTIN - Everyone agrees that Austin has a traffic problem and that problem isn't isolated to I-35, Mopac and Highway 183.
The city's major corridors, Burnet Road, Lamar Boulevard, Riverside Drive, Airport Boulevard and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard can also be traffic nightmares.
"We have spent millions of dollars studying, done the plans and put them on the shelf because that's what Austin does well. We need to take them off the shelf and actually do something," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.
Adler is proposing the council put a mobility bond on the November ballot. It would add continuous movement intersections on Highway 360, improve urban trails, plus add bike lanes and sidewalks across Austin. But the bulk of the money would be spent on improving the corridors, not by necessarily adding lanes, but using the existing right of way to create other traffic solutions by turning them into "Smart Corridors".
"We want to get buses able to move more quickly by giving them queue jumps. We want to get the buses out of the way so when they stop, cars aren't stopped behind them. We want to get the bicycles off the roads so they don't stop cars," said Adler. "And then it's putting left turn and right turn lanes at the intersections so you're not stuck behind somebody as they're waiting to turn."
The corridor areas that would be improved are:
- Airport Boulevard [North-South] From Lamar Boulevard (6926 N Lamar Blvd) to U.S. 183 (Approx. 106 Airport Blvd)
- Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard/FM 969 [East-West] From U.S. 183 (5801 E Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd) to Imperial Drive (4900 Imperial Dr N)
- East Riverside Drive [East-West] From Riverside Drive & I-35 (1111 East Riverside Dr) to SH 71/Ben White Boulevard (7600 E Ben White Blvd)
- Burnet Road [North-South] From Koenig Lane (2043 W Koenig Lane) to MoPac (11940 Burnet Road)
- North Lamar Boulevard [North-South] From US 183 (7866 N Lamar Blvd) to IH 35 (1310 Howard Lane Blvd)
- South Lamar Boulevard [North-South] From Riverside Drive (1239 W Riverside Drive) to Ben White Boulevard (2428 W Ben White Blvd)
The price tag is $720 million. Here's a breakdown from the Mayor's Office of how the money will be spent:
- $500 million Smart Corridors
- $100 million Regional Pain-Points
- $55 million for Sidewalks Master Plan
- $30 million for Urban Trails Master Plan
- $20 million for Bicycle Master Plan
- $15 million for Vision Zero Plan
"We can do all of these projects at a tax increase that's less than $5 a month, that's 16 cents a day," said Adler.
A citizens group made up of transportation professionals, spearheaded by the Central Austin Community Development Corporation, agrees that the city needs a mobility bond, but says the mayor's proposal is missing something: rail.
"It is important to move cars," said Mario Champion, who is also on the city's Urban Transportation Commission. "But it is important to move people, not cars, and light rail is the best way to move a lot of people."
The group wants $70 to $90 million of the bond to go toward engineering and planning to create an urban rail line from Crestview Station to Republic Square Park. This would be followed by another bond in 2018 to fund the rest of the $400 million rail line.
While Adler said he believes rail will be in Austin's future, he doesn't plan to add it to this bond.
"I don't think that urban rail is going to be part of this proposal for this bond election in November just because I don't think we can reach consensus quickly enough to have that happen," Adler said.
Council has until August to call for a bond election, but they don't meet at all in July. Adler said the council needs to come to a consensus in June. The proposal goes to the full council on June 23.
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