Austin could be getting its first HOV lanes.
Construction is still a few years away, but the Texas Department of Transportation is preparing for work on the I-35 Capital Express project through Austin. It’s collecting public feedback on the northern and southern portions of the project, and it's likely that the project will use high-occupancy vehicle lanes through Austin to increase traffic flow on Texas' most congested road.
Since state leaders have said tolls are out of the question, TxDOT is looking at HOV lanes to manage traffic.
On the south end, the plan is to add two managed lanes in each direction on I-35 between Ben White Boulevard and SH 45 Southeast. While in the north, the project would add one managed lane from I-35 from SH 45 North to U.S. 290 East. There will also be new bike and pedestrian paths and safety improvements along the corridors. Construction is set to begin on both projects in 2022.
“We don’t have any right now in Austin, but they’re in use in Houston and Dallas,” said Diann Hodges, a spokeswoman for TXDOT’s Austin District. “It limits people’s ability to get on and off because it’s based on how many people are in the vehicle. And by putting some parameters on that, it will actually improve traffic flow.”
TxDOT displayed models of the Capital Express South project at an open house at Akins High School Thursday night. Drivers who live in the area are hoping the project would provide some relief to the congestion.
“They definitely needed to do something, there’s no doubt about that,” said Lexine Spillmann, who attended the open house. “And I hope they continue going on down toward Buda and Kyle, too because that’s as much of a problem.”
The northern and southern portions of the project are funded, at $400 million and $300 million, respectively. But there’s still a funding gap to complete the central part of the Capital Express, through Austin. That portion is much more complicated, officials said, and the costs would be in the billions.
“That’s the keystone, and nobody knows where that (money) is going to come from,” said Dick Kallerman, with the Sierra Club of Austin. He’s skeptical congestion on I-35 would be eased without it.
But TxDOT believes it’s still worth moving ahead on the projects.
“If we can get traffic moving north and south, we can give drivers some alternatives when we do start construction in downtown Austin,” Hodges said.
An open house on the Capital Express North project is planned for Oct. 24, at John B. Connally High School in North Austin.
TxDOT representatives will be available to answer questions. There's also a virtual town hall for both projects available online.
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