The town of Austin, amongst different native stakeholders, is at odds with the Texas Division of Transportation and state leaders like Gov. Greg Abbott over the kind of managed lanes in TxDOT’s I-35 Capital Categorical Venture.

Regardless of lobbying by the town for variable toll lanes like these on MoPac Expressway, TxDOT stays intent on non-tolled high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes. 

The multibillion-dollar challenge plans so as to add two HOV lanes in every course alongside the eight-mile stretch between State Freeway 71 and U.S. Freeway 290. The 4 current general-purpose lanes in every course would transfer under grade. Some preliminary design options present underground HOV lanes. The challenge is at the moment within the public engagement and environmental evaluate part, which suggests a closing design gained’t be prepared till 2023. 

Initially, the plans included tolled lanes. However in 2017 Abbott promised that no toll lanes could be included within the challenge – or in some other initiatives in Texas. 

Eric Bollich, assistant director of the Austin Transportation Division, confirmed to the City Transportation Fee Wednesday that’s nonetheless the case. “As of now, TxDOT has advised us that will probably be two managed lanes in every course – not tolled.” 

The difficulty is certainly one of many discrepancies between city and state preferences for the project. Metropolis Council lately outlined the town’s targets in a resolution and a series of letters.

In a letter to TxDOT, Assistant Metropolis Supervisor Gina Fiandaca outlined two primary arguments for toll lanes: 1) they’re much less susceptible to congestion, permitting them to maneuver extra folks; 2) they’ve the potential to lower the challenge’s bodily footprint. 

“Prior visitors research carried out in the course of the TxDOT I-35 Environmental Linkages Examine instructed that HOV2+ may end in lingering congestion on non-tolled managed lanes,” Fiandaca wrote. Much less-crowded lanes would higher meet the town’s objective of shifting as many “folks, items, providers,” as attainable – not simply automobiles. Transit service utilizing the lanes may particularly stand to profit.

The town and native stakeholders have advocated for a decreased challenge footprint, which the town says could possibly be achieved utilizing tolled lanes as an alternative of HOV lanes. 

If HOV lanes find yourself being TxDOT’s, the town plans to construct transit-exclusive entry ramps into the managed lanes for its commuter bus service at Riverside Drive and Dean Keeton Road. These could be along with TxDOT’s HOV-access lanes. The possibly bigger footprint on this state of affairs may exacerbate environmental impacts and reduce east-west connectivity.

With tolled lanes, “separated transit lanes or unbiased ramps should not wanted, thus lowering the footprint of the power and probably the environmental impacts,” Fiandaca stated.

TxDOT won’t pay for transit-exclusive ramps. It additionally won’t pay for caps – one other metropolis precedence – although it plans to accommodate both the caps and ramp initiatives ought to the town select to construct them.

The town says bus ridership for routes utilizing the tolled MoPac specific lanes elevated by 65 p.c in comparison with earlier than the specific lanes. Transit riders shouldn’t have to pay the toll, simply the bus fare.

On the UTC assembly, commissioners expressed frustration towards TxDOT’s desire for HOV lanes. Commissioner Susan Somers stated, “I’m flummoxed on how little anyone appears capable of transfer TxDOT on these points.” 

Bollich responded that these choices are “actually on the management stage of TxDOT and state.” 

“I believe what we will do as neighborhood members and stakeholders and companies,” Bollich instructed, “is (say): I don’t assume we’ve seen an evaluation displaying the … comparability between managed lanes being a free HOV mannequin and tolled.” 

The UTC will quickly publish a decision in response to TxDOT’s second round of public feedback, which is able to wrap up April 9. 

There are many ways TxDOT could conceivably manage lanes, because the graphic under exhibits: 

Picture courtesy Texas Division of Transportation

It’s unclear whether or not the design of the lanes may permit conversion to a different sort of managed lane after building. Bollich stated that the town ought to advocate for this flexibility.

Ought to the town discover HOV lanes or some other closing design components unacceptable, the town has little actual energy to vary TxDOT’s thoughts. Taking it to the courts, as Houston did against TxDOT’s I-45 expansion, often is the metropolis’s solely recourse. For now, Austin will proceed its “ongoing collaborative course of” with TxDOT because the company strikes by the design course of.

Photograph made out there by a Creative Commons license.

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