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In District 8, Years of Growing Frustration Over Elusive Traffic Solutions

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Photo credits (L to R, top to bottom): Filipa Rodrigues for KUT, Mary Kang/KUT, Patrick Dentler/KUT, flickr.com/photos/danatx and flickr.com/photos/dawilson

This week, KUT is continuing its look at each of the city's 10 districts and at some of their unique needs.

Today, we're looking at District 8, which includes “the Y” at Oak Hill, where State Highway 71 and U.S. Highway 290 intersect, and stretches from Brodie Lane to Circle C and then goes all the way to Southwest Parkway.

The population in the district and surrounding areas has grown 200 percent from 1990 to 2010, according to city estimates, causing traffic along major roadways here to grow in tandem.

For years, many in District 8 have pushed for an extension of State Highway 45, saying that the southwestern extension of the highway could serve as a pressure valve to relieve congestion in Southwest Austin. Others have argued against the project, citing environmental concerns.

While the project shows signs of moving forward after years in limbo, some say more innovative, less costly solutions could do the job.

“We are just so tired of that traffic situation,” says District 8 resident Bill Pointer. So tired, Pointer says, that he and his friend Bill May meet exclusively to talk about congestion solutions.

“I had a meeting seven miles from my house, and it took me 24 minutes to get from Gatling Gun to Slaughter Lane, which is 2.1 miles,” May said in 2013. “And, that's not unusual in the mornings.”

In fact, since that morning when Bill Pointer and Bill May met, traffic has gotten worse.

Traffic here can make or break a candidate's political ambitions. Pointer and May worked fervently to get Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty elected. In exchange, they wanted to see extensions to State Highway 45 SW built.

It's been a couple of years since that morning and, instead of more transportation options and better traffic flow, the area has continued to grow – in population, in construction and in congestion.

Traffic expert Brian Wagner, with California-based Stack Traffic Consulting, says one idea the city could adopt is to change the building dynamics. For instance, if a developer wants to build in District 8, part of their responsibility would be to improve the area's traffic conditions

“[T]hat means that they are installing the latest in technology and committing to the maintenance of those roadways for a period of time,” he says.

He says the days when cities looked at new roads, like SH45 SW, as the only approach to solving traffic problems are gone. He says it takes too long to build new roads and maintaining them takes too much money.

“At the end of the day you have a limited pipe, or bandwidth, available for sending a large number of vehicles down a corridor,” Wagner says. “So, you'd be forever chasing your tail, so to speak, if you're trying to solve traffic with a narrow-minded view."

The creative approach may be a faster solution than waiting for SH45 SW to be built.

May and Pointer have held hope for almost two decades, and have yet to see their hopes actualized.

Pointer keeps collage of newspaper articles that stretch back to 1985. Perhaps this time, a new Austin City Council can do what it will take to solve District 8's traffic problem.

Five candidates are running for District 8.

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