Rendering courtesy TxDOT
At the first of four community meetings March 28, the Texas Department of Transportation unveiled a modified plan to reduce traffic congestion at three intersections along Capital of Texas Highway, also known as Loop 360, from US 183 to Old Spicewood Springs Road. The most significant change would be allowing traffic to cross Loop 360 at Bluffstone Lane and Spicewood Springs Road.
TxDOT initially wanted to install modified Michigan left turns, which eliminate most left turns and require drivers to use U-turns, at 17 intersections with traffic lights along the 13.9-mile roadway. However, some homeowners, businesses and local politicians protested the proposed changes, saying TxDOT should have asked for their opinion before making that plan.
TxDOT staff said they had gone through 915 written and oral comments they had received since November, when the first plan was introduced.
“TxDOT was responsive and recognized that we needed to do some more things here in terms of public input,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, D-District 48, whose district encompasses nearly all of Loop 360.
At the community meeting, TxDOT staff provided background on the increased congestion along Loop 360, the resources available and possible solutions—information that will be repeated at the following meetings. The department has proposed Michigan left turns for 17 intersections with traffic signals.
After each public meeting, representatives designated by neighborhood associations will take part in follow-up workshops, including one April 5 regarding the section between Old Spicewood Springs Road and US 183.
The next public meeting will focus on Section 3, from Lakewood to Westlake drives, on April 16 at Anderson High School. On May 22, the public will be able to weigh in on Section 2, from Westbank Drive to Las Cimas Parkway at Westlake High School.
Terry McCoy, engineer for TxDOT Austin District, said TxDOT identified other solutions, such as leaving the road as is; adding a third lane between US 183 and Old Spicewood Springs Road for about $12 million; constructing an overpass, which would cost about $36 million; or turning Loop 360 into a tolled expressway, which TxDOT ruled out in 2004 because of strong public opposition.
The total cost of the project for the US 183 to Old Spicewood Springs Road section is $5 million. McCoy said for all of Loop 360, TxDOT has about $6 million in funds from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and $4 million in TxDOT's Proposition 12 bonds, which were approved by voters in 2007 for transportation projects throughout the state.
McCoy said the department is also working on signal modifications.
“We've worked with the City of Austin, and we have a consultant on board trying to optimize that and make that work as well as it possibly can,” he said. “The bad news is that no matter how good of a job we do, you're only going to see modest improvements.”
By incorporating the modifications to the intersections, drivers could see an average time savings of about 90 seconds in either direction from US 183 to Old Spicewood Springs Road, according to TxDOT. But with no improvements and with 54,000 vehicles already using Loop 360 daily, McCoy said congestion will only worsen as Austin sees more development and increase in population.
Maps and animations of the three intersections are available at the TxDOT website.
Citizens are invited to submit their comments by email to AUS_LOOP360@txdot.gov or by mail to Environment Coordinator, Texas Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 15426, Austin, TX 78761-5426.
Comments received by April 9 will be entered into the public record.