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Traffic signals to be activated this month at I-35 and Fourth Street

A man and woman wearing shorts and t-shirts are walking their dogs along a dedicated bike and pedestrian path, approaching a highway and railroad crossing in downtown Austin. Part of the sidewalk is red with bike symbols painted on. A gray car is waiting at the crossing. Apartments are in the background.
Deborah Cannon
KUT News
Jessica Monteiro and Esteban Puerto walk their dogs, Forrest and Moose, along the Fourth Street crossing at I-35. New traffic signals have been installed and are scheduled to be activated this month after testing.

Long-awaited traffic signals have been installed at I-35 and Fourth Street — one of the most popular ways to walk from one side of the highway to the other — and are scheduled to be activated this month.

The lights will include buttons for pedestrians to activate the stop signal.

The heavily used bike and pedestrian path crosses the freeway frontage roads and travels underneath the elevated main lanes. Despite a painted crosswalk, drivers on the I-35 frontage road rarely yield to pedestrians, as required by state law.

"It's actually really dangerous. Like I have a 2-year-old and we sit here and wait all the time," said Ash Aquila, who lives near the intersection. "No one stops for us unless they blatantly see us, so I've ran across a couple times with my heart racing."

The city has tried to reduce the danger. The northbound crosswalk was shortened. Parking was banned along part of the frontage road, so people can get a better view of oncoming cars, which sometimes travel at highway speeds.

But with an estimated 2,000 people crossing daily, the intersection can still be dangerous.

Sydney Wright, an artist and songwriter, was hit by a car while riding a scooter to yoga class on a Saturday morning in 2018.

"I broke a bunch of bones, but kept all my teeth," Wright said after crossing again on her way to yoga class — this time on foot. "And yeah, it was a hit and run."

Doctors said she was lucky to survive, according to a GoFundMe set up by her best friend.

Newly installed lights, still covered in black plastic, at the I-35 frontage road at 4th Street. Green street sign are on a post. They read "I-35 SVRD 400" and "E 4th ST 800"
Deborah Cannon
KUT News
The traffic lights have been installed but are still wrapped in plastic.

The paved trail is part of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, originally named the Crosstown Bikeway, a 5-mile bike path from MoPac to U.S. 183. The section crossing I-35 is also part of the Red Line Trail and the Saltillo Bikeway.

Whatever you call it, the pathway has become increasingly popular as more homes and businesses have popped up on both sides of the highway. The trail was widened and repaved through the years and now includes separate red lanes for bikes and a gray sidewalk for pedestrians.

A map of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway in Austin. A red line on a map shows the bikeway running through the grid of city streets from U.S. 183, following Fifth Street, Fourth Street, Third Street and Cesar Chavez Street.
City of Austin
The Lance Armstrong Bikeway runs from MoPac to U.S. 183.

Austin's transportation planners don't expect the new stoplights to worsen traffic on the frontage road, which can grind along more slowly than walking during rush hour.

"When you think about where congestion happens, it's going to happen at the major streets," city transportation engineer Nathan Wilkes said. "If there's any congestion, it's going to be at Sixth, Seventh and Eighth [where there's cross-vehicle traffic]," he said.

But the east-west pedestrian path still has to contend with the interstate installed through Central Austin 62 years ago.

"I think one of the unique things you have going on here is the people driving have sort of a highway-environment mentality," Tom Wald observed while standing on the corner.

Wald is head of the Red Line Parkway Initiative, a nonprofit pushing for a trail along Capital Metro's 32-mile rail line, which also crosses I-35 at Fourth Street. He was among those pressuring officials to get the traffic signal installed.

"It sat on the shelf for a long time," Wald said, "because it requires the coordination and three yeses. Basically a yes from three different agencies: the city of Austin, TxDOT and Capital Metro."

All three have now said yes.

The City of Austin committed about $400,000 to pay for the traffic signals. Capital Metro spent $430,000 to synchronize the rail crossing with the traffic signal. TxDOT gave the green light to install the stoplight on its highway property.

The city funding came from a quarter-cent sales tax that would have been spent on urban rail if a 2014 ballot initiative hadn't failed.

But they will only be in operation a few years before a reconfiguration of the interstate wipes them off the map.

TxDOT has begun a highway expansion project that will completely transform the look of I-35 downtown and eliminate the need for the traffic signals at Fourth Street.

A drawing of the inersection of 4th Street and I-35 in downtown Austin. A cyclist is biking over a covered pedestrian bridge passing over multiple freeway lanes. A CapMetro Red Line train is traveling along a rail bridge next to the cyclist. In the background, the city skyline has various high-rise buildings.
An early rendering of the I-35 expansion showed one possible scenario of how the bike path and rail line might cross I-35. The city is raising hundreds of millions of dollars to install large decks that would cover the highway next to the crossing, too.

So the new stoplights have been installed in a semi-permanent, less expensive way, designed to last 10-15 years as opposed to 50 years. The lights, for example, hang on wires instead of being mounted to a metal arm over the road.

The I-35 expansion will lower the main lanes and frontage roads below ground level at Fourth Street. The pedestrian path and CapMetro rail line will travel overhead, entirely separated from cars.

"Which is a super huge deal," Wilkes said. "If you ask me how safe that'll be, you know, it'll be extremely pleasant and safe."

But TxDOT's work on that section of I-35 isn't slated to start until late 2026 and will take years to complete.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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