Just about every major city in the industrialized world has bad traffic. It’s an unfortunate side effect of economic prosperity. Nowhere is that fact more evident than here in Central Texas. In the most recent Annual Urban Mobility Report issued by the Texas Transportation Institute, the Austin area ranked 3rd when it comes to travel time delays. Only metropolitan Los Angeles and Washington, DC were worse. The Austin area also ranked 3rd in 2009.
The good news, however, was that congestion in the Austin area in 2010 remained unchanged from its 2007 level, based on the index, and was actually down from 2005. Institute engineer Tim Lomax told the Austin American-Statesman in September the biggest reason for the slowdown in congestion in Central Texas was the slowdown in the economy. But he also added that the opening of 70 miles of new toll roads also played a role. We, at the Mobility Authority, are proud to be a part of that positive direction.
The fact is that a lot of progress is being made by government agencies to help relieve traffic bottlenecks. The year 2011 ended on a high note when the Texas Department of Transportation opened new flyover ramps at the I-35/Ben White Freeway interchange, allowing traffic to move from one highway to the other without traffic lights.
Meanwhile, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 2035 Regional Transportation Plan priority list shows nearly 60 major transportation projects under way in the region, with more than 40 due for completion in 2012. For example, the $1.2 billion extension of the SH 130 toll road from Austin to I-10 near Seguin is set to open later this year.
The Mobility Authority has several projects in line for major milestones this year as well. We will celebrate the fifth anniversary of our first project, the 183A toll road in Williamson County, with the opening of a $105 million five-mile northern extension. The extension will offer significantly faster travel between Austin and the suburban communities surrounding the Cities of Leander and Liberty Hill.
We are also making considerable progress on the $426 million, 6.2-mile Manor Expressway that will extend from U.S. 183 to west of Manor and will help improve mobility and economic development in a fast-growing area of eastern Travis County. The first 1.4-mile stretch, which includes a flyover interchange at U.S. 183 and U.S. 290, is to be completed later this year. The entire expressway is due to open in 2014.
We also have partnered with TxDOT, the City of Austin and Capital Metro to determine how best to reduce congestion on MoPac, one of the region’s busiest roadways. This effort includes a detailed environmental study led by TxDOT to evaluate alternatives to improve mobility in the MoPac corridor from West Parmer Lane to Lady Bird Lake. The study began in 2010 and has included a number of public meetings. The draft environmental study is anticipated to be out in the spring for public review and public hearing, and we hope for federal approval later in the year. Construction is expected in 2014.
We also hope to step up the dialogue on a long-term solution to longstanding congestion problems southwest of Austin in Oak Hill. We are working with elected officials, neighborhood groups and other stakeholders to better understand the issues surrounding the project. We recognize that there are many diverse views regarding the need for mobility improvements in Oak Hill and the form they should take. While it may be difficult to develop a project that makes everyone happy, it would be irresponsible of us to allow the current congestion problems to persist without taking action.
But it doesn’t stop there. Later this year we will also be launching studies, in conjunction with TxDOT, to look at improvements on MoPac between Lady Bird Lake and Slaughter Lane, on US 183 between MoPac and RM 620, as well as on US 183 between Manor Road and SH 71. Plus, we will begin studying options to improve mobility between MoPac and FM 1626 near Brodie Lane in southwest Austin.
All of these projects will present unique challenges. But we can no longer be hesitant when it comes to facing our mobility problems. We must step up to the challenge and be willing to try new and innovative approaches to moving people and goods faster and more efficiently. We must strike a proper balance between mobility and the environment. We must consider new ways to fund mobility. And most of all we have to be willing to change.
We want the region to be No. 1 in jobs, education, economic growth and quality of life, not in congestion. Our future will depend greatly on the vision we collectively bring to solving the mobility problem in Central Texas.