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East-West travel in Austin: Cesar Chavez/1st Street

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Created and last updated August 9, 2001

The Cesar Chavez/1st corridor was the approximate location of the planned Town Lake/Riverside Freeway, which would have followed 1st Street from Loop 1 to just east of Congress, then crossed Town Lake and followed Riverside eastward. Like the Crosstown Freeway to the north, I don't think plans for this freeway advanced very far before cancellation in the early 1970's. It appears that there was an attempt to resurrect the 1st Street Freeway in the 1980's. The 1986 Downtown Gateway Access Study reported that Austin voters rejected a 1st Street Freeway proposal by a landslide margin, with 70% voting against the freeway. I don't know when that occurred, or the details surrounding the vote, but that kind of margin surely put the nails in the coffin of the 1st Street Freeway.

The rejection of improvements to the First Street corridor was unfortunate, because this was really the best place to build a freeway. It should have been aligned just north of 1st Street along the railroad corridor, and then possibly used a tunnel through the core of downtown. But that's all wishful thinking.

Downtown area freeways in the 1962 plan, which was re-approved in 1969.

In 1986, the Downtown Access Gateway Study recommended the construction of a new 3rd Street Parkway to help downtown traffic flow. Like most other studies, it was not implemented.

In the mid-1990's, 1st Street was renamed to Cesar Chavez since the east section of the street runs through a Hispanic area. The name change was a good idea to help avoid confusion with South 1st street, a north-south facility extending south from downtown. The new name has been fully adopted east of Congress, but adoption has been slow on the western section.

Cesar Chavez Street is a decent route for east-west travel going eastward. The drawbacks are that you have to pass through downtown, and the intersection at Interstate 35 is substandard. Going westward, forget about using Cesar Chavez, because the downtown section is one-way eastbound and you have to detour to 2nd Street.

1986 Proposal for the 3rd Street Parkway
In early 1985, Austin City Council authorized an east/west arterial route study through the downtown area. The study developed into both a transportation study and urban design study. The final report, dated September 1986, is called the Downtown Access Gateway Study - Urban Design Task Force Report to City Council.

The study recommends several improvements to downtown, including 6-laning Lamar Street. The key recommendation was the construction of a new 3rd Street Parkway from Loop 1 to Nueces in the Warehouse district. The images below show the location of the facility and 4 proposed design options.

It appears that all of the recommendations of this study were ignored. Even if the 3rd Street Parkway was more than City Council could swallow, many of the other recommendations would have been a big benefit to downtown, especially the improvements to Lamar through downtown.

So what to we have today? Lamar Street is severely gridlocked through downtown during rush hour, and the intersection of Lamar and 5/6th is always busy. The east-west routes are inadequate, with 5/6th Streets taking the brunt of the traffic congestion. Crossing downtown typically requires long waits at traffic lights, even if traffic is not severe. The consultants who make these recommendations aren't idiots. They're professionals making sound recommendations. So why has Austin City Council ignored just about every recommendation for road improvements? I wonder who the idiots really are......

1st/Chavez location map (high resolution 437k) This map shows the study recommendations, including the 3rd Street Parkway and various widenings. Details are more visible in the high resolution view.

1st/Chavez location map
This view shows two possible configurations for the 3rd Street Parkway: the 4-lane elevated roadway over the railroad tracks, and the 4 lane minimum roadway. Note that costs shown are in 1986 dollars and would be much higher today.

1st/Chavez location map
This view shows two possible configurations for the 3rd Street Parkway: the 4-lane parkway and the 6-lane parkway. Note that costs shown are in 1986 dollars and would be much higher today.

1st/Chavez location map

Chavez east of Loop 1
A. A driver's view just east of Loop 1, looking east. Town Lake and the popular jogging trail are on the right. Photo taken 29-July-2001.

Chavez at Lamar
B. Driver's view looking east just west of the Lamar Street Bridge. Chavez goes underneath Lamar, which is a big plus for this route. Photo taken 29-July-2001.

Chavez at Shoal Creek
C. Looking east at Shoal Creek. The heavily urbanized downtown area begins just ahead. Obviously, it would now be impossible to build a freeway on this route. Photo taken 29-July-2001.

Chavez begin one way
D. This view looks westward at the beginning of the one-way section of Chavez Street. Westbound traffic must detour, making this a low-ranking route for westbound traffic. Photo taken 29-July-2001.

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