Austin’s Hazardous Materials route plan inches forward

Screengrab of a tanker truck burning on US 183 in 2010. (KXAN News)
Photo of a tanker truck burning on US 183 in 2010. (KXAN News)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – An update to a long-awaited, state-mandated route to keep dangerous cargo well away from your commute was back in front of city council members for the first time in more than a year. City planning staff say they’re now a third of the way through an 18-month study to figure out the route that makes the most sense to truckers, property owners and businesses.

Unlike every other major city in Texas, Austin does not boast an obvious ring road so trucks hauling dangerous loads can steer clear of dense urban areas. In March, the city signed a $300,000 contract to hire an outside consultant called TRC Environmental. Monday, City Transportation planning staff told the City’s Public Safety Committee of Council the consultant is now conducting preliminary risk assessments that include:

  • Selecting candidate routes (SH 130 Toll and US 183 have both been talked about over the years)
  • Comparing area roads for the probability an incident with the exposure to nearby population, including hard-to-evacuate populations such as senior’s homes
  • Ease-of-access for emergency personnel

    Hazardous Materials Routing plan elements (City of Austin)
    Hazardous Materials Routing plan elements (City of Austin)

When Austin’s population hit 850,000 in 2013, that triggered state rules on how so-called hazardous commodities are most safely moved through our metro area. (Metro Austin’s 2016 population is now 931,830 according to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate).

Federal transportation records show crashes involving dangerous cargo in Central Texas area are rare – but they do happen – like one in 2010 at the U.S. 183-MoPac split that threatened to damage the overpass. In Feb 2015, KXAN News first investigated why the city had not formally begun its routing process. At the time, the reason provided was that a Texas Transportation Institute team was not available to do the work.

Similar studies show most of what moves through and around Austin’s metro area is gasoline, unlike more industrial centers of the state.

Next steps in the so-called non-radioactive hazardous materials routing process includes the first public consultation on Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. at the Ruiz branch of the Austin Public Library at 1600 Grove Blvd. And by next summer City Council will be asked to vote on an ordinance allowing the final route. A final routing plan will have to be submitted to TxDOT for approval.

Recent major Haz Mat spills in Austin

Federal transportation records show the most recent major haz mat spills on Austin highways:

  • The evening of Oct. 20, 2015, a gasoline tanker crashed on US 183 at the 290 feeder. More than 600 gallons spilled when the truck rolled over, tearing the tank open
  • A similar tanker crash Aug. 23, 2015 at 290 and Johnny Morris resulted in a larger spill of 1,350 gallons
  • A rollover crash Sept. 27, 2012, on S. Interstate 35: 2,900 gallons of fuel spilled in a wreck involving a tanker coming into Austin from Buda

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