The Austin City Council voted Thursday to begin the process of possibly taking over portions of some of the city’s most prominent roads that are currently controlled by the Texas Department of Transportation. The move could make it easier to make infrastructure and transit improvements, by removing a step in the process.
The technical names of the roads are State Loop 343, which encompasses portions of South Lamar Boulevard and Cesar Chavez Street, and State Loop 275, which includes portions of North Lamar Boulevard in North Austin and South Congress Avenue.
“They used to be the main highways through town at one time, and as we’ve built more regional facilities like I-35 and MoPac, these streets or these highways have really become remnant roads,” said Robert Spillar, director of transportation for the City of Austin. He said the goal of taking over the roads is to “have better control of the management and operations of those roadways.”
The city manager will now formally request that TxDOT transfer ownership of the roads, a process that will involve negotiations and an ultimate vote from the Texas Transportation Commission.
A TxDOT spokesman said the agency “is aware of the request.”
There is precedent for the move. Parts of the SL 275 corridor from U.S. 183 to Williamson Creek were turned over to city control in 1986 and 2000. The city also manages Cesar Chavez and portions of South Lamar under a maintenance agreement with the state.
Spillar said while TxDOT’s Austin District has been a great partner, having the city control the roads would make the process of improving sidewalks and pavement more efficient, particularly on roads not covered by the agreement. He said it could also free up resources for TxDOT.
“It’s always frustrating to us when citizens call in to complain about, for instance, a pavement issue and we have to refer them to TxDOT,” he said. “Just because of logistics, we could have crews out within 24 hours, and they may not be able to have crews out because if they have their crews deployed somewhere else in the district, they just can’t get to it as quick as we can.”
The city often has to ask the state for permission to make significant changes to the roadways. A takeover could make the process for transit improvements smoother, too. Dedicated lanes for trains and/or buses are a big part of Project Connect, Capital Metro’s plan to expand Austin’s transit system. The Lamar and South Congress corridors are both targeted for upgrades.
Eventually, the city may request ownership of other roads in Austin, including portions of Airport Boulevard and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, but Spillar said officials want to see how the current request goes before adding more.
“Folks should expect that this might be a long process, it’s not going to be a quick process,” he said.
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