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$8 Billion Transportation Vision for Austin: Three-Level Freeway, Tollway

Interstate 35 through Central Austin would be transformed into a three-level roadway wIth toll lanes in the middle, according to an 8.1 billion vision proposed by TxDOT.
November 2, 2017, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The Texas Transportation Commission, the governing body of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), is proposing an ambitious, costly project to add two express lanes in both directions of Interstate 35 for a length of 33 miles, reports Ben Wear, who covers transportation for the Austin American-Statesman, on Oct. 30. Based on the constraints of the corridor, it would vary from one to three levels. 

A couple of years after pitching the idea of adding one toll lane in each direction, highway officials are now talking about adding two lanes with MoPac-style variable tolls to each side of I-35 from Round Rock to Buda, and burying those lanes well below ground level through much of Central Austin.

That long-range plan, announced Monday, would include eliminating the upper deck that runs between MLK Jr. and Airport boulevards, replacing that two-lanes-a-side free capacity with added freeway lanes tucked under the frontage lanes. This complex three-level design through Austin’s core, which officials have dubbed the Capital Express, would be similar to what the Texas Department of Transportation did recently with Interstate 635 in Dallas.

Dallas set the example in 2015

The 13-mile Interstate 635 LBJ Express Project opened in September 2015. According to a report on opening day from NBC-DFW:

The toll lanes [called TEXpress Lanes] are built underneath the regular I-635 lanes because, based on overwhelming public sentiment, the developers decided not to build higher up to prevent noise. They couldn't expand wider, because that would have required more property.

There are four or five free general lanes in each direction, at least two free frontage roads, and now three managed toll lanes...High occupancy vehicle drivers can register for a 50-percent discount with the "Drive On TexPress" smart phone app.

According to an early U.S. DOT, "Build America Bureau" description, the "$2.6 billion project is being constructed as a public-private partnership (P3) where the private developer will lease the facility from TxDOT and will set toll rates and receive toll revenues over 52 years in return for designing, building, financing, operating, and maintaining (DBFOM) the project."

No new general purpose lanes

"The concept, to squeeze what amounts to 12 expressway lanes into a narrow Central Austin corridor [...] would involve tucking some lanes under those above it in what TxDOT calls a 'cantilever' approach," adds Wear. 

The plan, as contemplated now, would not include adding free lanes, said Terry McCoy, TxDOT’s Austin district engineer.

And more toll lanes are planned throughout the state. Wear notes that of the 16 new highway projects planned in metropolitan regions, 14 will have toll lanes, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s earlier claims that he wouldn't resort to hiking taxes or imposing tolls to pay for highway construction.

Hat tip to David Orr.

Note to readers: The Austin American-Statesman allows a limited number of "free reads" before a subscription is required.
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Published on Monday, October 30, 2017 in Austin American-Statesman
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