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East-West travel in Austin:
You better not be in a hurry!

Created and last updated August 5, 2001

2222/Koening Lane Drive the route of the cancelled freeway.
45th Street Congestion will increase when the Triangle Tract is urbanized.
35th/38th Streets Once the route of the Camp Mabry Freeway, this route has a 2-lane section through Hyde Park.
Enfield/15th The approximate location of the cancelled Crosstown Freeway, Enfield is hopelessly substandard and carries a heavy traffic load.
1st Street Once planned to be a freeway, there were at least 3 aborted plans for this corridor.
Barton Springs/Riverside A small section near restaurant row is actually being improved in 2001-2002, a rarity for an east-west route in Austin.

In a transportation network full of weak links, east-west travel in Austin is surely the weakest link. In fact, the word "link" probably should not even be associated with east-west travel in the middle part of Austin, because most of the roads available to the east-west traveller were never intended to be regional links. Most are neighborhood roads, old ranch roads, or park roads. And since I live in west Austin and frequently travel to the east, I know these routes all too well.

How can it be that an urban area with 1.25 million people (2000 census) does not have a single decent east-west route for a 10-mile stretch in its central section, including downtown and UT-Austin? Well, the planners in the 1960's knew that east-west travel was a problem and put 2 continuous east-west freeways on the map and two partial east-west freeways on the planning map. The latest record that I could find of official approval of this plan was City Council approval on April 22, 1969.

Crosstown Freeway
This freeway would have started near Mopac (Loop 1) and twelfth street, then curved northward to 16th street just north of the capitol, and then proceeded into east Austin.
Riverside / Town Lake Freeway This freeway would have followed the alignment of First Street through the center of downtown, right along Towne Lake. Just to the east of Congress Avenue, it crossed Town Lake and then proceeded eastward on the route of Riverside Boulevard.
Camp Mabry Freeway This freeway would have followed 35th street from Loop 1 to the Central Freeway (Lamar Boulevard.)
Koenig Lane Freeway This freeway would have connected the Central Freeway (Lamar Boulevard) with I35.

In addition, the Central Freeway would have roughly followed Guadalupe from the Capitol northward to 183. It would have connected three of the east-west freeways, including the short Koening Lane and Camp Mabry Freeways, providing east-west mobility. For detailed information on the planned design of these freeways, see the 1969 Austin Development Plan.

Austin east-west cancelled freeways
For the 1962 map of these freeways, Click here.

Was this plan a good freeway plan? Probably not. But instead of formulating a better plan, authorities cancelled the 1962 Austin freeway plan and scrapped all east-west freeways by the early 1970's. But the need for east-west transportation only increased, of course. A 1971 article in Texas Highways Magazine reported that "Austin has become strictly a north-south city as far as traffic is concerned."

The freeway plan formulated around 1985 reinstated the Koening Lane Freeway (2222) from Interstate 35 to Loop 1 (Mopac). This freeway was highly contentious, and neighborhood opposition resulted in cancellation of the freeway in the great 1994 freeway cancellation event.

A few good arterial streets could also have solved much of the east-west travel problem. But nothing has been done. In 1979, a study recommended improvements to 38th Street where it is only 2 lanes. As usual, neighborhood interests objected, and local authorities were more than happy to cancel the improvements. Other proposals for improvements to 1st street (including the 3rd Steet parkway) have fallen by the wayside.

By 1996, some relief finally came with the 183 freeway on the north side and the 290-71/Ben White Freeway on the south side. However, both freeways are about 5 miles away from the main activity center of Austin. The 183 freeway is really not a true east-west-route; it is really a north-south route that has a northwest-to-southeast section in north Austin. In addition, the 290-71 freeway stopped west of Interstate 35 and emptied into a signalized intersection, causing massive traffic jams. Construction is underway to eliminate that bottleneck, and southside travellers should have a good east-west route by 2003 or 2004.

But for east-west travellers in the central section of Austin, the future offers little hope. Of course, neighborhoods will also suffer as their streets become more clogged and cut-through traffic increases. Plans for improvements are minimal. A short section of Barton Springs Drive near restaurant row is having a central turning lane added in 2001-2002. Funding has recently been approved to add a median and left-turn lanes to Koenig lane. That work should begin in 2003 or 2004. The anti-road Austin City council embarked on a major downtown construction program around 1999, and it did not include any road expansions or circulation improvements. It includes only some re-paving and rebuilding of streets that were torn out for other construction. In fact, as of 2001, there were plans to permanently close and remove Riverside lane at Auditorium shores. While not a through route, the removal of this route would eliminate one east-west option.

The transportation powers-that-be know that east-west travel is a problem. It always has been, and always will be. But they have chosen to accept the situation and let it be. Scarce resources are being directed to the 130 corridor and other projects in the suburbs.

Will the Koening Lane Freeway ever be resurrected? Almost surely not. For that to happen, there will need to be big political shift in city council and the mayor's office. The anti-freeway activists will need to disappear from the scene. (In other words, they'll need to die, and no new ones would be able to arise.) Is Central Austin really a better place because east-west transportation has been kept so poor? I don't think so. In my view, it would be better to funnel all the east-west traffic into one or two corridors (preferably freeways), rather than have it disrupt all the neighborhoods and central Austin, and create severely congested intersections all through Central Austin. But it's best to just strike this down as a victory for anti-road interests, forget about it, and try to prevent other transportation crises from developing in other parts of Austin.

So the advice to the east-west traveller remains the same:
you better not be in a hurry,
drive carefully because these roads are dangerous,
and don't hope for relief, because it will never come.

Summary of Central Austin East-West Routes

You basically have six choices, all of them bad. All the routes have at least one serious problem. Overall, Koenig Lane is probably the best route, especially if you need to cross Interstate 35 (it goes under IH-35). Each of the six routes is fully covered in separate pages in the links given below. Koenig Lane is given special attention since it is the route of the most recently cancelled freeway, and it was also the most logical location for a freeway.

Koenig Lane/2222  Full corridor coverage
Koenig/2222      

45th Street  Full corridor coverage
45th street

35/38th Street  Full corridor coverage
38th Street

Enfield/15th Street  Full corridor coverage
Enfield/15th Street

1st Steet/Cesar Chavez  Full corridor coverage
1st Street

Barton Springs/Riverside  Full corridor coverage
Barton Springs/Riverside

 
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