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East-West travel in Austin: 35th/38th Street

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Created and last updated August 9, 2001

The western seciton of 35th street was proposed to become the Camp Mabry Freeway in the 1960's. The freeway would have extended from Lamar (which was planned to be the Central Freeway) to Loop 1. I don't think plans for the Camp Mabry Freeway ever progressed much beyond a line on a map. However, I can only dream about the great access that the Camp Mabry and Central Freeways would have provided to the University of Texas at Austin.

Today, the western section of the 35th/38th corridor is heavily commercialized. Fortunately, this section of 38th is a modern four-lane facility with a central turning lane. The eastern section of 38th from Guadalupe to Interstate 35 is a different story. This section is a two-lane roadway through the Hyde Park neighborhood, and is a severe bottleneck in cross-town traffic flow on 38th Street. Hyde Park is a very vocal neighborhood and the neighborhood association is the reason why 38th Street is still in its originally constructed configuration, which dates from the 1920's or 1930's.

In the past, I frequently used 38th to get across town, but traffic at the Lamar intersection has become steadily worse, so I usually try to avoid 38th Street. Still, if you want to go to the UT-Austin campus, 38th Street is one of only two options.

1979 Improvement Study
Reference:
Study of Alternatives for Improvements to 38th and 38 1/2 Streets from Guadalupe to Interstate Highway 35
Espey, Huston, & Associates, August 1979

A 1979 study recommended upgrading 38th Street to a 4-lane undivided roadway from Guadalupe to Interstate 35. It also proposed the option of creating two one-way streets on 38th and 38 1/2 Steets near Interstate 35.

The study considered 6 options:

  1. do nothing
  2. provide additional lanes at major intersections only
  3. provide a three-lane section from Speedway to Duval and Red River to IH-35
  4. provide a four-lane section in the same areas
  5. provide a five-lane section along the entire length of the study area (Guadalupe to IH35)
  6. provide a one-way pair system.
The study gave the following recommendation:

In order to accommodate projected peak hour traffic volumes at a Level of Service "C" (i.e., stable flow conditions) during peak hours, the following minimum roadway cross-sections are required:
  1. Guadalupe to Speedway - 44 foot minimum width (four 11' lanes)
  2. Speedway Intersection - 55 foot minimum width (four 11' lanes plus a left turn lane)
  3. Speedway to Duval - - 44 foot minimum width (four 11' lanes)
  4. Duval Intersection - 55 foot minimum width (four 11' lanes plus a left turn lane)
  5. Duval to Red River - 44 foot minimum width (four 11' lanes)
  6. Red River Intersection - 55 foot minimum width (four 11' lanes plus a left turn lane)
  7. Red River to IH-35 - - 44 foot minimum width (four 11' lanes)
An acceptable alternative to 6 and 7 above would be a "one-way" pair utilizing 38th Street and 38 1/2 Street. This would be accomplished by realigning the south leg of the "Y" with 38th Street, providing two through lanes and a left turn lane eastbound on 38th Street at Red River, and signalizing that intersection. Two through lanes and a left turn lane should be provided at 38th Street westbound.
A five lane section (with continous left-turn lane) was preferred from a safety standpoint, but was not selected because "impacts of such a section on existing structures and vegetation would be severe."

The following schematics below show the alignment of the 4-lane roadway through the corridor and the optional one-way pair near Interstate 35. The maps a a little difficult to interpret due to the way the lines are rendered.
Guadalupe to Speedway 314K
Speedway to Duval 415K
Duval to Red River 470K
At Red River, 4 lane, 2-way option 529K Includes Legend
Red River to Interstate 35, 4 lane, 2-way option 285K
At Red River, one-way pair option 421K
Red River to Interstate 35, one-way pair option 281K

So why wasn't this improvement implemented? Probably because of opposition from the Hyde Park Neighborhood association. The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association is very hostile - the kind of organization that would oppose a project because a single tree would be lost. Of course, the neighborhood doesn't want more traffic either. But what we have today isn't really very desirable either. During peak hours, the traffic lights on 38th Street are on very long cycles. If you want to cross 38th, it can take a long time. A seemingly endless flow of cars streams along 38th. Basically, 38th Street is handling as many cars as it can. And if it's any consolation, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association does not get everything it wants. It has lost most battles with Hyde Park Baptist Church, which has constructed large structures and a parking garage in the neighborhood.

Photos

38th location map

38th at Interstate 35
A. 38th Street at Interstate 35. This is the double-deck section of Interstate 35. Photo taken 29-July-2001.

38th at Red River
B. Driver's view at the Red River intersection. Photo taken 29-July-2001.

38th at Hancock
C. 38th alongside the Hancock golf course. Photo taken 29-July-2001.

38th between Duval and Speedway
D. 38th between Duval and Speedway. Photo taken 29-July-2001.

38th between Speedway and Guadalupe
E. 38th between Speedway and Guadalupe. Photo taken 29-July-2001.

38th at Lamar
F. At Guadalupe, 38th Street becomes a modern roadway with a center turn lane. This view looks west along 38th at the Lamar intersection. This intersection is the scene of heavy traffic congestion. Photo taken 29-July-2001.

38th at Shoal Creek
G. Driver's view at the Shoal Creek Crossing. This is also where the roadway shifts from 38th Street to 35th Street. Photo taken 29-July-2001.

38th at Loop 1
H. This view looks east from the 35th Street overpass over Loop 1. Near Loop 1, 35th is a four-lane undivided roadway. The intersection at Loop 1 does not even include a left turn lane and is hopelessly inadequate to handle the traffic flow. Photo taken 29-July-2001.

 
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