Gary Schatz, Assistant Director for Austin Transportation Department
By Travis Atkins
A permanent fix to the traffic congestion along Highway 290 in Oak Hill is nowhere in the immediate future. But projects are in the works for Continuous Flow Intersections that will ease the traffic burden somewhat, according to Don Nyland, TxDOT Area Engineer and Gary Schatz, Assistant Director for Austin Transportation Department. The two gave an update on the short term traffic fix at the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN) monthly meeting.
A plan to add double left turn lanes from 290 onto 1826 as well as double left turn lanes from 290 onto Convict Hill and subsequently widen Convict Hill is 100 percent complete and is on target for an October letting with construction to begin sometime in early 2013.
The more ambitious plan to, among other improvements, make continuous flow intersections at the ‘Y’ and at 290 and William Cannon, along with upgrades at Joe Tanner Lane is between 60 and 90 percent complete and is scheduled for a February letting with construction to begin in March or April. The construction will take around 12 months, according to Nyland.
“This is a new, different and weird thing for everybody and we are very careful with that,” Schatz said. “One of the things we did is we sent the plans to traffic engineers with the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Utah Department of Transportation because they’ve been building CFIs (continuous flow intersections) for a number of years. So we are doing everything we can to make sure everything that goes on the ground is the right thing to go on the ground.”
CFIs will allow for increased flow of traffic by having traffic lanes facing each other and going opposite directions be able to go simultaneously regardless if you are turning left.
The empty slabs at William Cannon and 290 where the Convict Hill shopping center was will be used for the continuous flow lanes, and a retention pond will be put in to help manage water runnoff.
“We’ve got a problem there (William Cannon and 290),” Shatz said. “It’s just not an efficient intersection. Right now, left turns can’t go at the same time because they overlap.”
Sidewalks will be present at a few select locations, but for the most part, walkers and bicyclists will be relegated to the shoulder of the highway.
“What we are doing is adding at least a six-foot shoulder on both sides all the way through,” Schatz said. “It gives us something. It’s not ideal or perfect but we’ve got a finite footprint we have to fit within and we are doing the things we can to try to make it a little more hospitable to non-motor vehicle users.”
The Park and Ride on 290 east of William Cannon will remain there but get moved south a little, Nyland said.
Joe Tanner Lane intersects 290 by the Oak Hill baseball fields and is also on the docket to be upgraded and made more efficient
“As far as Joe Tanner, we are going to close the crossover (at 290) and if you are westbound and want to go to Joe Tanner, you will come down just past the intersection a little ways and make a U-Turn,” Nyland said.
The ultimate plan—if it’s what people decide they want, Nyland quickly added—is to close Joe Tanner altogether and have McCarty dead end into the 290 frontage road, but that is not in the current CFI package.
Inevitably, the question of a permanent solution to fix 290 at the ‘Y’ came up as Oak Hill residents in attendance expressed some frustration at the lack of changes through the years.
“We’ve been working on it for almost 30 years now,” Nyland said. “They are trying to get the CFIs in so we can show that we have made some improvements to the area with the traffic flowing through. They had a meeting to get people’s input over certain things and CTRMA (Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority) has kind of taken over that. I’m not going to venture a guess because every time we try to get something ready to go, there is somebody that decides we need to redo everything. I moved to San Leanna, so I don’t have to mess with it.”
Schatz added that the idea is for the CFIs to provide eight to ten years of relief and in that time frame, a milestone will be reached as to what should be done next.
Environmental studies on the area have to be redone and take five years to complete. Once the studies are done, they are good for three years.
“Other parts of town are getting their freeways and this part of town is not getting one and there is a reason for that,” Nyland said. “We’ve been spending twenty years fighting people and re-evaluating, re-looking at it, re-designing and all. There are some of you all that are all for fixing it, and I’m all with you, but there are some that are not and those are the ones that are giving us the obstacles.”
Another traffic issue raised was the signal duration at 290 and William Cannon and on 290 past the ‘Y’, which audience members said contributed to the traffic jams.
“Once we are finished with the projects through here, we are going to work with the city and go through all the lights and re-time them,” Nyland said.
With all the concerns and frustrations voiced, Schatz assured citizens that his organization was doing everything they could to fix the traffic problems.
“I think it’s important and I hear this from people not only here in Austin but across the country,” Schatz said. “ People get that we are constrained on finances and community bills to do a lot of these projects. But it is important to try to demonstrate that what can be done is being done.”
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