It is no secret that traffic along I-35 in Round Rock is a problem. Rush-hour commuters are accustomed to backups in both directions of the interstate and along the exits.
The issue is compounded by the fact the interstate is managed by the Federal Highway Administration, and most of the arterials connecting with it fall under the Texas Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction—meaning the city must receive approval from either state or federal authorities, or sometimes both, to conduct major roadway improvements.
“The reality is our job is to improve the mobility for the citizens of Round Rock,” Round Rock Transportation Director Gary Hudder said. “It’s not [commuters’] fault that our community is made up of a network of roads that are owned by different people. To them that is meaningless at the end of the day. They want to get from where they are to where they want to go to, and they don’t care who it belongs to.”
The first step in solving the traffic issues, according to city Transportation Department officials, was identifying the source of the city’s congestion.
“[I-35] floated to the top of our list of problems when we went to review the planning process a year and a half ago,” said Chad Wood, Round Rock city traffic engineer. “We call this the biggest problem in town because of the ripple effect. These problems ripple out, just like a pebble in water.”
The end result, according to the city, is traffic congestion both on I-35 and along the roads it connects with.
“The significant traffic problems we have all of the time are all associated with I-35,” said John Dean, Round Rock Transportation Department planner. “You can consider [I-35] like a spine. If your spine is hurt, everything else is messed up as a result of it.”
When the city’s engineers began studying what was occurring on I-35, they recognized several flaws in the highway’s architecture. Several of the exit and entrance ramps were designed and put into place when Round Rock could still be considered a rural community.
“That was great in 1975, when there was literally a tenth of the people living in Round Rock,” Wood said. “But when you grow tenfold, you’ve got to modernize the traffic system, or otherwise it’s not going to work.”
The first step in the city’s plan is what is what the Transportation Department is referring to as a “ramp reversal” project. The idea is to switch the locations of interstate entrance and exit ramps to better accommodate the flow of traffic. The city’s Transportation Department has identified four locations between Hwy. 79 and FM 3406 it would like to redesign.
“This plan is similar to other segments of I-35 already existing today, so this is really bringing us into compliance,” Hudder said. “We’re hopeful this will help and alleviate some of the congestion.”
An added benefit to the project will be the increased access to businesses along I-35’s frontage roads. With the current placement of the ramps, motorists exiting the interstate bypass most of the businesses between Hwy. 79 and FM 3406. The proposed configuration will move commuters onto the frontage roads earlier and increase traffic to local businesses. The planned addition of a third lane to the frontage roads should also help relieve backups at the exits and entrances, city officials believe.
“The benefit is when you put this entrance ramp back ... all of this area now is exposed to the traffic from the freeway,” Dean said. “Every one of these businesses (on the frontage roads) now have access to this traffic. This ramp configuration will allow you to exit … see businesses and patronize them.”
The last step before moving forward with construction is attaining consent from state and federal agencies.
“[TxDOT] has to approve it, and you have to get approval from the Federal Highway Administration—it’s a two-step process,” Dean said. “And it’s done to their liking, or it is not done.”
Round Rock’s I-35 ‘ramp reversal’ project
While the I-35 corridor through Round Rock is not broken, it is certainly in need of repair, city transportation officials said. The first step the city has identified in alleviating the congestion is reversing the placement of the entrance and exit ramps on I-35 between Hwy. 79 and FM 3406 and adding an additional lane to the southbound and northbound frontage roads.
- Purpose: To ease congestion along Round Rock’s I-35 entrance and exit ramps and open access to businesses along frontage roads
- Estimated construction start date: Early 2013
- Estimated time of construction: 18 months
- Estimated cost: $8.5 million
- I-35 ramp removals: Four—two northbound and two southbound
- I-35 ramp additions: Four—two northbound and two southbound
- Lane additions: Two—one each on I-35 northbound and southbound frontage roads between Hwy. 79 and FM 3406