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Transportation

Left turns will be restricted along Austin light-rail routes

A view down South Congress Avenue near Wasson Road
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
/
KUT
Left turns will be restricted along streets where light-rail is constructed, like this stretch of South Congress Avenue near Wasson Road.

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Turning left won't be as easy for drivers along major streets destined to become routes for the city's new light-rail system. The Orange and Blue lines are expected to begin operating by the end of the decade under the voter-approved $7.1 billion transit expansion called Project Connect.

City and transit officials want the Orange and Blue lines to run in the middle of the street down thoroughfares like South Congress Avenue, North Lamar Boulevard and Riverside Drive. Allowing cars and trucks to turn left over the tracks wherever they want could slow trains and increase the risk of a crash, officials said.

Instead, drivers will have to do a U-turn at the next traffic signal and backtrack to the street or business they want to access. The city would not add dedicated U-turn lanes.

"Left turns are tricky today and adding the crossing of the rail is just another maneuver that is better done with a U-turn," Annick Beaudet, with the city's Project Connect office, recently told a panel of local officials.

A section of the Project Connect transit map
Project Connect
The Orange and Blue lines will travel in the middle of the road along major thoroughfares like South Congress Avenue and Riverside Drive.

The change will not require approval from City Council, according to the Austin Transportation Department.

ATD doesn't know how many intersections would be affected, but expects to produce a list in the coming months. The restrictions on left turns wouldn't take effect until the light-rail lines are constructed.

Restricting left turns is a common safety practice along light-rail routes in cities like Houston, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City.

"It's a way of prioritizing transit and allowing for greater throughput of people and overall greater mobility for the community as a whole with some tradeoffs," said Lyndon Henry, a transportation planning consultant who sits on a technical committee advising the Austin Transit Partnership on Project Connect.

"But that happens all the time whenever they upgrade a major roadway [by adding a center median]," he said. "That just happens as a city grows."

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