By Ann Fowler
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has scheduled an update workshop on May 23 for the proposed Oak Hill Parkway. The goal is to relieve traffic congestion along U.S. 290 West from MoPac through the ‘Y’ to FM 1826. TxDOT wants to create a tollway to do just that, with the project in the fifth year of an environmental impact study (EIS).
At the meeting, official will provide the latest information about the EIS, the noise analysis process and updated tree surveys.
Officials have chosen project designs known as Alternatives A and C for the roadway, and will measure them against the No-Build Alternative, an unlikely scenario given it’s status as the 55th most congested roadway in Texas according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
U.S. 290 was built as a state highway in 1927, while State Highway 71 was created as a Farm-to-Market Road in 1944. In the 1980s, the state built the raised portion of the roadway from MoPac to Joe Tanner. It is the remaining stretch through William Cannon and the ‘Y’ that continue to cause traffic headaches for commuters.
A traffic survey shows that the traffic jams cost drivers 173,000 hours of delay per mile annually through this stretch of road.
Some locals disagree with the road planners’ insistence in an elevated multi-lane roadway that would give a much faster commute to a log-jammed MoPac, while others just want the traffic nightmare to end.
Roadway officials note that traffic demand on this corridor demands a project that meets the traffic demand along the corridor today as well as future traffic projections.
Some local residents would like officials to work on getting people out of their cars through mass transit or telecommuting. Despite heavy congestion seen daily through the ‘Y’ and along MoPac – the main roadways in and out of Oak Hill — Capital Metro has proposed removing almost all local service based on a “low residential density”, while no mention is made of the very high traffic density.
Construction of wider lanes through the area will necessitate someday removing the Oak Hill Flyer’s current park and ride at William Cannon and U.S. 290 West, but it is unclear where a new one might go and how or if the Oak Hill Parkway design will accommodate it.
Local resident Tom Thayer hopes a new park and ride west of the ‘Y’ is chosen to spare people having to suffer the congestion through the ‘Y.’
As TxDOT waits for the completion of the EIS, interim intersection fixes were designed to help in the short-term. Simple fixes at Convict Hill and FM 1826 have allowed two lanes to turn off the busy roadway. But the continuous-flow intersection at William Cannon Drive and U.S. 290 west has resulted in a 35 percent increase in accidents according to Austin Police Department data, plus complaints from drivers on William Cannon who say their wait times have dramatically increased.
Thayer plans to attend the workshop. He told the Gazette, “The Oak Hill Parkway is very important to Oak Hill as evidenced by the traffic at rush hour. However, it is such an important project that it is vital to get it right as the end product will affect Oak Hill for years to come.”
Thayer does not believe a tollway is the best design for the roadway, and points to a recent bill to expand private toll roads, HB 2861, that was defeated in the Texas Legislature. The Oak Hill Parkway was specifically mentioned in that bill.
“Around the state, public sentiment is turning against the notion that all new roads should be toll roads,” Thayer said.
“We don’t comment on legislation during session,” said TxDOT’s Veronica Beyer. Those who pay attention to how the Texas Legislature works know that text from a defeated bill may show up as an amendment to another bill before session ends.
Thayer points out, “The legislature and the voters have authorized billions in transportation funding that is not to be used for toll roads. Is anyone fighting for Oak Hill to get any of this money?”
Oak Hill Parkway officials point out, “… if other funding sources become available to fund construction and maintenance of the Oak Hill Parkway project, and the region prioritizes spending that money on the Oak Hill Parkway, it would not need to be tolled.”
Those unable to attend the Oak Hill Parkway update workshop can find information posted online at www.OakHillParkway.com in late May.
The workshop will be held Tuesday, May 23, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Oak Hill United Methodist Church – Children’s Center, 7815 U.S. 290 West.