Transportation

Traffic, public transit, congestion, road construction and closures, I-35, MoPac, US 290, US 183, Ben White Blvd, and policy and planning issues related to transportation and mobility in Austin and the Central Texas counties of Travis, Hays, Caldwell, Bastrop and Williamson.

A man who stripped naked to protest security screenings at the Portland International Airport was exercising his right to free speech, a court ruled Wednesday.

John Brennan was charged with indecent exposure after the incident, but Brennan said he stripped only after he refused to walk through a scanner and security agents found traces of nitrates on his clothes.

Here's how he described the incident to KVAL:

Capital Metro

An off-duty bus driver committed suicide on a Capital Metro bus yesterday evening in front of other passengers. The man worked for Capital Metro through Star Tran, a non-profit group that employs the drivers and technicians.

Capital Metro issued the following statement this afternoon:

Capital Metro is deeply saddened to report that an employee died last evening aboard a Capital Metro bus from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. The employee, Jesus Rios, 47, had been a bus operator for Star Tran, Inc for 11 years, and had been placed on suspension for disciplinary reasons earlier this month by Star Tran.

Following the incident, the bus operator acted swiftly to safely escort the six passengers off of the bus. There were no injuries to the bus operator or passengers. The incident occurred in the 3100 block of Red River Street in Austin at 8:40 p.m.

Imagine going into bankruptcy with billions of dollars in cash still in your bank account. That's what American Airlines did last November. The thinking was that management would gut the company's pensions and union contracts and emerge from bankruptcy ready to compete.

But then US Airways said it could take over American and be profitable, and it wouldn't have to hurt American's employees nearly as bad in the process. American's pilots, mechanics and flight attendants loved that idea.

State Highway 130 Concession Company

Despite setbacks, State Highway 130 is still set to open in its entirety by November. The toll road will connect the North Austin area with Interstate 10, hopefully easing traffic on Interstate 35.

But SH-130 was the victim of drought-induced damage to its structural integrity. Once-moist clay dried out and contracted, causing shifts in the ground underneath the asphalt and cracking the road on top. Parts of the 41-mile stretch of road between Mustang Ridge and Seguin need to be redone and preventative measures are being taken to keep the damage from reoccurring.

SH-130 is being constructed by a private company, acting as a proxy for the Texas Department of Transportation. Chris Lippinpott is the spokesman for the State Highway 130 Concession Company, the organization in charge of the design, construction, finance, operation, and maintenance of the highway. Lippincott says the cost of the road will total nearly $1.325 billion.

Allen photo Capital Metro; Bus photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Effective immediately, Capital Metro vice-president and chief development officer Doug Allen has resigned.

“Doug resigned on Tuesday,” Cap Metro spokesperson Misty Whited tells KUT News. “It’s been something that he and [Cap Metro president and CEO] Linda Watson had been talking about for some time.”

Allen came aboard Cap Metro in 2008, and served as interim president a year later, before a national search installed Watson as the transit authority’s leader. In a blog from the time, the Austin Chronicle wrote that Allen was “the point man on recent efforts to get MetroRail up and running.”

flickr.com/bump

At a meeting tonight, the Urban Transportation Commission will hear a presentation on potential changes to Austin’s valet parking ordinance.

Currently, a valet business can lease the use of a public parking spot for $250 a year. And approximately 180 parking spots are used for valet parking downtown. But as the city grows and parking becomes more scarce, calls have emerged to reconsider the fee, which hasn’t been modified since 1999.

Talks between the city and valet operators have been going on since August of last year. Both the city and the valet operators favor a change to an hourly rate. 

Daniel Reese, KUT News

The Texas Department of Public Safety is reminding Fourth of July revelers to plan ahead before they party.

“If you are drinking, make sure you have a designated driver or some other form of transportation,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “Otherwise, you could be making a very expensive or even fatal mistake.”

DPS has ramped up DWI patrols and will continue to increase enforcement through July 8. The department will focus their patrols on areas they consider to be high-risk during holiday weekends.

City of Austin

The Austin Airport Advisory Commission signed off on construction of a $5 million temporary terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to expedite expected flights for this November’s Formula 1 race.

The commission voted yesterday to recommend a contract with Siemens Industry Inc. to construct “a temporary customs and immigration processing facility” at ABIA.

Although the terminal is billed as temporary, the contract with Siemens includes three year-long extensions for maintenance. In a presentation, Siemens bills the terminal as good for five years of operation.

KUT News

The Austin Airport Advisory Commission votes tonight on the construction of a $5 million temporary customs building at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

The proposed add-on would open in November of this year, and is scheduled to close 24 months later. 

An airport spokesman says the extension is necessary to keep traffic flowing smoothly through the airport during this fall’s Formula 1 race and beyond. 

TxDOT

The Texas Department of Transportation has just launched a new website designed to give you all the information you need before you hit the road.

DriveTexas.org features an interactive map that shows you traffic and weather conditions, construction projects and other information.

But before you use the mobile version of the website, you have to certify that you understand you shouldn’t use the website while driving.

dirtybad.imgur.com

Update (8:53 a.m.): Police say all southbound lanes of I-35 are now open.

Traffic was diverted for several hours this morning after an 18-wheeler jackknifed on I-35, trying to avoid hitting a pedestrian. The pedestrian died. The accident occurred at 2 a.m. today, Austin police said.

While both northbound and southbound lanes were closed for about an hour this morning around the 5500 block of the highway, all northbound lanes were said to be open by 8:30 this morning. Southbound lanes were expected to be opened by approximately 9 a.m.

flickr.com/mirsasha

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, better known as CAMPO, last night approved its MoPac Improvement Project.

The project will put a managed toll lane in each direction on MoPac, from Cesar Chavez to Parmer Lane. Toll pricing would be adjusted based upon MoPac's level of congestion at the time of use. The hope is to make traffic on the entire freeway move faster.

The $200 million project was put together by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and is being paid for by state and federal funding. The agreement between the mobility authority and CAMPO also creates an infrastructure fund. Basically, $230 million in money collected from tolls on MoPac over the first 25 years of its operation will be used to pay for other transportation projects in the area.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The City of Austin received a survey in September 2011 on the city's taxi issues.  Nearly a year later, the headaches continue. 

At last week’s Austin City Council meeting, members again debated how to get the right amount of taxis to the right places at the right time, while ensuring an even playing field for the city's three taxi companies and their drivers.    

In the end, council approved – on first reading only – the issuance of more permits to the city's two smaller companies: Lone Star Cab and Austin Cab. This week, Lone Star Cab’s franchise renewal returns to council, and Yellow Cab – which dominates the market with 400-plus permits – is also up for renewal, and additional permits.

For TxDOT, a $2 Billion "Perception Problem"

Jun 11, 2012
Eddie Seal/Texas Tribune

The Texas Department of Transportation, which often argues that it lacks the money to properly maintain its network of roads, surprised many state leaders in March when it announced it had an extra $2 billion.

In a state with a population growing faster than its transportation system, extra cash for transportation projects was welcome news.

Update 1:15 p.m. APD confirm the motorcyclist killed this morning was a 50 year-old man, but haven't released any more details, pending notification of his next of kin.

Police say the man hit a guardrail on the flyover from I-35 to 290 just after 10 a.m. and fell over the rail onto the service road some 30 feet below. Police will keep the flyover closed as they investigate the cause of the accident.

Update: 12:05 p.m. Austin Police say I-35 is open, but the flyover from East 290 to I-35 is still closed.

Photo courtesy Circuit of the Americas

The roads of Southeastern Travis County will be flooded with people when Formula One holds its first Austin race this November. Travis County Commissioners heard from the public today about a mass gathering permit requested by the Circuit of the Americas for the event.

The track is being built near Elroy and there’s some concern over whether existing roads will be able to handle the race day traffic.

Race organizers want an attendance cap of 250,000 people over three days. Elroy resident Cathy Olive thinks the commissioners should lower that.

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

Citing timing and financial constraints, Mayor Lee Leffingwell is arguing funding for Urban Rail shouldn't be put to voters this November.

In a post on his website, Mayor Leffingwell writes "we do not yet have a sufficient level of certainty regarding a plan to fund and manage operations and maintenance of an urban rail system. We also do not yet have the degree of certainty that I would like to see as it relates to a prospective federal funding match for construction costs, which is a fundamental need."

He also notes that in addition to potential rail funding on the ballot this November, "we are also poised to ask [voters] to approve a host of other critically needed bond investments." 

Photo courtesy flickr.com/rutlo

The city of Austin has cut the number of car crashes at ten of its most dangerous intersections in half. But how?

Red-light cameras that electronically photograph cars running red lights have been set up all over Austin. Over the past three years, these cameras have provided means to give almost 35,000 citations to those dangerous drivers.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

On some days, you might have more success finding buried pirate treasure than a parking spot in downtown Austin. Enter: iPhones.

This interview was originally broadcast on March 29, 2012.

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

What’s the estimated cost of Austin’s first urban rail investment? $550 million.

That was the price tag the Austin City Council heard in a work session this morning. Assistant City Manager Robert Goode said some $550 million was required to build the first proposed phase of urban rail, from the convention center through the UT-Austin campus and on the Mueller neighborhood.

And while the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts funding program could cover roughly half of that, rail consultants said the city would need to cover the other $275 million, likely in large part through a bond election – should council place it on the ballot, and voters approve it.

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

Austin’s urban rail plans will take a major step tomorrow when a preliminary funding and phasing plan will be outlined during an Austin City Council work session.

The Austin Transportation Department sent out a memo last Thursday outlining initial phases of investment for urban rail. 

The first proposed phase would serve Downtown, the Capitol Complex, UT, Hancock Center and Mueller. Phase Two would cross the river and head down Riverside Drive to Pleasant Valley.

Photo by By Daniel Reese for KUT News

Today marks the beginning of another "Click it or Ticket" campaign, a two-week undertaking by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to enforce seat belt usage. 

In Texas and across the country, law enforcement will be on the lookout for drivers and passengers shirking seatbelt laws, or whose children are improperly restrained. (Children under eight years must be in a child safety seat, unless they are taller than 4'9".) Citations run up to $250.

The NHTSA writes on its website that in the annual “Click It or Ticket” initiative, over three million tickets have been written over the last five years – a ticket every other second.

How Much Can You Save by Biking to Work?

May 18, 2012
Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Today is National Bike to Work Day – and with Austin’s infamous gridlock, more and more commuters are increasingly pedal-powered.

In celebration of Bike to Work Day, Kiplinger.com offers Americans a way to see exactly how much money they would save by riding their bikes to work every day. 

From the heart of residential Tarrytown, at Windsor Road and Exposition Boulevard, to Austin City Hall, Kiplinger estimates a savings of $13.19 a day for a seven-mile round trip and $10 a day for parking for about $3,500 in yearly savings.

Image courtesy Austin Transportation Department.

The City of Austin Transportation Department says the first phase of a new urban rail system should run from the convention center downtown, through the UT-Austin campus, and on to the Mueller neighborhood.

In a memo released today, the department also laid out a path for a second phase going south of the river. That route would head south from the convention center, across Lady Bird Lake and then run along East Riverside Drive to Pleasant Valley road.

The memo doesn’t have cost estimates for either route. The Austin City Council will take up the recommendations and cost estimates during two upcoming work sessions. On May 22, it will hear a conceptual funding plan, then on May 29, the council will hear a Transportation staff-recommended “next investment.” 

If a preliminary report holds true, the number of road deaths fell again in 2011. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 32,310 people died on highways last year, down almost 2 percent from the 32,885 people who died in 2010.

The Detroit News reports:

Another I-35 Accident Closed Lanes Earlier Today

May 1, 2012
Photo by KUT News

Authorities shut down the north and southbound lanes on Interstate 35 earlier this afternoon, after a pickup truck hit a small propane tank trunk just south of Slaughter Lane.

“The pick up truck caught on fire and there was a small leak from the propane tank,” said Veneza Aguinaga, a senior police officer at the Austin Police Department.  “It is typical protocol to shut down a road if we feel there is a threat to citizens.”

'Click It or Ticket' Photo Op Leaves Onlookers Hanging

May 1, 2012
Photo by Jillian Schantz Patrick

In recent years, cranes have become an integral part of the Austin skyline. But it's not very often you see one suspend a pickup truck by seatbelts. 

This morning, the Texas Department of Transportation did just that as part of a demonstration to show the strength and power of seatbelts. 

The Click it Or Ticket campaign will stretch from May 21 to June 3 as an attempt to bring awareness and enforcement to the state seatbelt laws. Current law requires that every person in the vehicle must be secured by a seatbelt whether in the front or back seat.

Photo courtesy Twitter user JenelleS_KVUE, http://yfrog.com/mnhspfwj

Update 1 p.m.: Capital Metro says complete rail service should be back on regular schedule by 1:15 p.m.

Update 10:30 a.m.: A 32 year-old man was killed in a Capital Metro rail collision this morning. Two children were also in the car with the unnamed man, and were taken to Dell Children’s Hospital. Capital Metro spokesperson Misty Whited tells KUT she’s learned the children are in stable condition.

127 passengers were aboard the train at the time of the collision, plus one train operator.

The collision occurred at a private drive crossing the Cap Metro rail line; out of 74 total crossings along the rail line, 13 are on private drives. Only two have crossing gates; the crossing at Oak Hill Drive (mapped below) did not have a gate, only a stop sign.

Photo courtesy Van Sutherland via Flickr

This morning, Capital Metro bus drivers and mechanics met their soon-to-be employers. Representatives from the companies that Cap Metro is contracting out services with were at the bus garages at 4 a.m. for a quick meet and greet.

Yesterday, the Capital Metro Board of Directors voted to outsource hundreds of employees. Those include regular bus drivers and mechanics along with people who provide door-to-door services for the disabled.

A new law required Cap Metro either to outsource their workers or bring them in as state employees.

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