OHAN hears ideas for ‘Green Mobility’

February 24, 2012  

OHAN_feat

Ann Coleman presents to OHAN ideas from her team’s award-winning designs in the “Green Mobility Challenge” sponsored by TxDOT and CTRMA.

By Ann Fowler

Several engineering and design professionals presented award-winning designs for the ‘Y’ and the proposed State Highway 45 Southwest at the February meeting of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN). Board member Aan Coleman encouraged community members to speak up if they want to see any of the design incorporated in future roadways as part of the Oak Hill landscape.

The “Green Mobility Challenge” was a roadway design contest held last year when the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) invited professional and student teams to submit innovative and environmentally friendly ideas for the two environmentally sensitive Oak Hill roadways.

The designs submitted included a double teardrop intersection, installation of solar panels on the roadway surface, inclusion of an Oak Hill Town Center and implementation of high-efficiency LED lighting. Some of the innovations are new to Texas.

Jim Robertson of Jacobs Engineering, whose presentation placed second for a redesign of the ‘Y,’ said, “It was a challenge put out by CTRMA to the engineering community, the design community, without any presumption about what would happen after the competition was over.”

Added Aan Coleman, whose group placed first for its reinterpretation of the ‘Y,’ “There were no rules. All the thinking you’re seeing is boundaryless.”

Under the theory “you don’t ask, you don’t get,” Coleman stressed the need for community support for innovative designs at both roadways. She said, “These are all valid and great ideas. We’re trying to demonstrate to you all that we need your help to implement any of these ideas,” she told the OHAN membership. “It’s really important to rally support.”

Jim Robertson of Jacobs Engineering, whose design focused on the area from Joe Tanner to the 'Y'.

Robertson embraced the challenge, saying, “It’s really exhilarating for our profession. To do green mobility solutions is a little bit of a reach, but it’s within reach. We don’t get opportunities like this very often to think clearly out of the box. That’s what we were able to do with this Green Mobility Challenge.”

The Jacobs Engineering design focused on the area from Joe Tanner to the ‘Y.’ The frontage road was moved away from the U.S. 290 mainlanes to become J.A. Patton Boulevard. The name embraces some of Oak Hill’s history, while the roadway is designed to improve local access and promote walkability. In the area bounded by J.A. Patton Boulevard to the south, William Cannon to the west and Patton Ranch Road to the east, the new town center would be located near a new Capital Metro park and ride facility.

Other benefits of the boulevard design include:

• Preservation of existing trees

• Reduction of the SH 71 flyover height

• Creation of open space for trails and a park

• Minimal disturbance to Williamson Creek

The design included elements such as low impact development, reforestation by adding 1,000 trees, and Williamson Creek restoration.

The Jacobs Engineering design celebrated Oak Hill history by relocating the Old Rock Store, currently home to Austin Pizza Garden. The official name of the 100-year-old edifice is the James A. Patton Building, named after the man who supervised its construction in the late 1800’s, and who was affectionately called “the mayor of Oak Hill.” The designers suggested making the building the centerpiece of the new town center.

Another unique feature of the Jacobs design is a Green Wall along the cliff face just west of William Cannon. The vegetation on the wall would absorb air pollution and road noise while slowing water to decrease erosion.

The current impervious cover in the area is 39.5 percent. The TxDOT schematic suggests 52.1 percent, while the Jacobs design comes in at 50 percent.

Coleman of Coleman and Associates presented the design that took first place for a ‘Y’ redesign, focusing largely on the area from the ‘Y’ and to the west.

Coleman’s proposal included a regional park at the current HEB center site, a separate parkway to serve a town center and its next door neighbor, the Austin Community College, and the relocation of Williamson Creek to allow U.S. 290 West to be widened at grade level. ACC officials so far have not warmed up to the idea of a parkway cutting through their campus.

“Gateways” at the intersections of Scenic Brook, FM 1826, Convict Hill Road, the ‘Y,’ William Cannon and Patton Ranch Road will provide “at grade” underpasses for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit and local traffic. Each gateway will be designed with a unique name to help in location identification.

Moving Williamson Creek is not new, the team said in its propasal, as a portion of it was shifted during that original construction: “A section was moved as part of the original construction of 290 (formally known as State Highway 290); this relocated section has un-natural (straight/manmade) geometry and opportunistic and invasive vegetation.”

According to the proposal, moving the creek to allow highway main lanes to remain at grade level would result in major cost savings.

The winning ideas for “the Manchaca Expressway” — SH 45 SW — came from AECOM Technology Corporation of Austin. AECOM’s Larry Ehlers said the proposed features include a park along the entire roadway, intersections designed to eliminate traffic signals, green roadway shoulders and special roadway crossings to accommodate wildlife, with a 44 percent reduction in disturbance area.

According to the AECOM presentation, if all of its features were adopted, it would be one of the greenest roads ever built, garnering 109 of a possible 118 Greenroads points.

“It creates a living laboratory for the Edwards Aquifer Zone,” said Ehlers. “Through trails and wildlife viewing platforms, the Greenway immerses and educates its visitors in the stories of its special landscape.”

Not all of the concepts in the winning presentations will be adopted. CTRMA’s Steve Pustelnyk told the Gazette, “It is important to note that all reasonable and feasible ideas submitted as part of the Green Mobility Challenge will be on the table as we begin the environmental study. Some of these ideas may be great ideas while some could prove to be unpopular, unreasonable or unaffordable. The key thing I want to emphasize is that we are serious about studying a wide range of options this time and engaging the public extensively in the study process.”


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