Research group: Improving IH-35 in Central Texas a top priority

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Yet another transportation research group has determined the stretch of Interstate 35 through Central Texas is in need expansion and reconstruction.

Revamping I-35 through Travis, Williamson and Hays County would improve economic development and safety, but it would also come at a steep cost, according to a study released Thursday by TRIP, a Washington D.C. based nonprofit transportation research organization.

The research group listed I-35 improvements as the top priorities for the Austin area, in its report.

Improvement projects for portions of I-35 through those three counties could cost more than $4.2 billion, according to broad estimates noted in the report.

“The most needed Texas transportation improvements would enhance economic development opportunities throughout the state by increasing mobility and freight movement, easing congestion, and making Texas an attractive place to live, visit and do business,” the report states.

The report recognizes several Austin-area projects that would improve traffic:

  • Build overpasses on State Highway 71 through Bastrop to bypass signals ($102 million)
  • Extend U.S. 290 Manor Expressway through Elgin ($540 million)
  • Reconstruct and expand Loop 1 between Cesar Chavez Street and Slaughter Lane ($290 million)
  • Reconstruct and expand U.S. Highway 183 between U.S. 290 and SH 71 ($680 million)
  • Reconstruct U.S. 290 and SH 71 near the their “Y” intersection at Oak Hill ($648 million)
  • Construct 3.6 miles of SH 45 SW, from Loop 1 to FM 1626 ($100 million)
  • Improve Loop 360 between U.S. Highway 183 and Ben White Boulevard ($500 million)

The road improvements would generate short-term benefits in the form of construction jobs and long-term benefits by improving freight movement, easing congestion, lowering travels costs and making the area a more desirable place to live.

Where does the money come from?

The Texas Department of Transportation says it needs an additional $5 billion a year to maintain current congestion.

To help cover part of the difference, voters approved a measure last November to divert $1.7 billion meant for the rainy day fund to highways.

At the Capitol, lawmakers are considering a bill that would use about half of the motor vehicle sales tax income on roads. The Senate already gave the OK, but it would require voter approval. That could mean an extra $2.5 billion.

So where will the rest of the money come from? Some choices include increasing the gas tax or annual vehicle registration fees. The Move Texas Forward coalition also recommends cost-cutting through privatization or computer services and road maintenance in some parts of the state.

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