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Austin Historic Freeway Planning Maps

1962 – An extensive inner-city freeway network is planned.
1969 – The approved 1969 plan still includes the inner city freeway network (no maps). Go to 1969 detail page
1980 – The inner-city freeway network is wiped out, and a new plan emerges.
1983 – Minor adjustments to the 1980 plan
1985 – A world-class freeway network with 2 loops is planned
1987 – An extensive arterial network is planned for northwest Austin
1994 – The 1985 plan is devastated as environmentalists seize control
2000 – Explosive growth and gridlock make it necessary to add freeways

The story of Austin’s freeway master plan is a story of boom and bust. The aggressive 1960’s plan was canceled and was replaced with a more modest plan in the 1970s. The world-class 1986 plan was discarded in 1994 as environmentalists took control of local government. Now in 2000, the plan is once again in the expansion mode as explosive population growth is plunging Austin into gridlock.

1962: An extensive inner-city freeway network

Source: Austin Transportation Plan, 1962-1982

I was astonished when I first saw this map. It was amazing to think of the bold vision required by the 1960’s planners who routed these freeways through the center of Austin, just north of the state capitol, alongside the UT campus, along Town Lake, on Austin’s narrow Guadalupe street (massive dislocations would have been required), and through the center of downtown. This plan was approved as late as 1969.

Certainly, all these freeways were not appropriate. But give those planners credit. They knew exactly what was needed to deal with traffic flow. As Austin continues to descend into gridlock, these freeways would be a godsend to get traffic moving.

In today’s political climate, it’s impossible to even add a turning lane at an intersection in central Austin. Forget about adding main lanes or central left-turn lanes to any of the several hopelessly inadequate east-west corridors (such as Koening, 45th, 35th, 24th, and Enfield.) The policy of the city council is to “protect” inner-city neighborhoods at all costs. Having lived in some of those neighborhoods (mainly Hyde Park), I really can’t understand what’s so special those messy areas, but logic doesn’t prevail in issues like this. (OK, that’s enough complaining about city council!)

Vanished without a trace (nearly)

For the most part, there is nothing to indicate that this plan ever existed. Except for MoPac Loop1, not a single segment of any of those inner-city freeways was constructed. No right-of-way was cleared. No ghost ramps exist.

However, this is one small trace of the 1960’s freeway plan. On Riverside Drive just east of I-35 there is an unusually large right-of-way set-aside at the intersection with Pleasant Valley Road. This would have been the endpoint of the Town Lake Freeway/Riverside Freeway.

Riverside right-of-way set-aside

Many Austinites may have wondered why there is a wide right-of-way set-aside on Riverside Drive just east of I-35. The answer: the Riverside Freeway!

The table below shows all the freeways from this plan that were canceled.

Crosstown Freeway This freeway would have started near Mopac (Loop 1) and twelfth street, then followed 15th 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 Towne Lake and then proceeded eastward on the route of Riverside Boulevard.
Central Freeway Starting downtown just west of the Capitol, this freeway would have been located a block or two west of Guadalupe and proceeded northward up to the UT campus, where it would join Guadalupe and follow Guadalupe northward to Koenig lane. It then curved to follow the route of Lamar street. A light rail line was planned for this route in 2000, but was narrowly rejected by Austin voters in November 2000. In the long run, there is still a very good chance that light rail will be built on this route.
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.
The only planned freeways on this map to survive are Mopac (Loop 1) and the Ben White Freeway (US 71). Interstate 35 was completed prior to 1962.

However, freeways not shown on this map have subsequently been constructed or will be constructed. This includes the 183 Freeway all the way through Austin, the 290 freeway east of I35, north and south extensions of Loop 1, and west extension of US 71 (Ben White Freeway.)

1968 Plans for the Crosstown Freeway

Source: TxDOT archives

A 1968 model of the planned section of Loop 1 (Mopac Boulevard) just north of Towne Lake shows the 1st/5th Street Interchange generally as it was actually constructed (there are differences with the as-built structure). Looking at the top of the photo, however, additional direct connector ramps to a freeway can be seen. These ramps would have been connections to the western terminus of the Crosstown Freeway.

The ramps are more clearly visible in the high resolution image.


1969 – The Inner City Freeway Plan Remains Intact

Source: The Austin Development Plan: Expressway and Major Arterial Plan

This document was approved by Austin City Council on April 24, 1969. The Central Freeway, Camp Mabry Freeway, Riverside Freeway, and Crosstown Freeway are all included in the plan. The plan contains cross-section views of the freeways and listings of the locations of intersections.

To see the detailed information about these freeways, go to 1969 freeway plans.

This document did not contain any maps.

Cancellation of the Freeway Network

I could not find any documents relating to the cancellation of the freeways. However, they were almost surely cancelled in the early 1970’s.

1980 – A new plan emerges

Source: Austin Metropolitan Area Roadway Plan, adopted October 1980
Austin 1980
High resolution(1591k)

Medium resolution(343k)

Low resolution(158k) This view is sufficient for seeing the plan layout

The 1980 plan refocused freeway construction efforts on existing corridors away from the center of the city. Two new major freeways are included in this plan
  • Loop 360 freeway. This freeway would later be cancelled.
  • 183 freeway – entire length through Austin
Notice the proposed freeway routing at the north end of Loop 360. Loop 360 was planned to continue east of 183, curve sharply northward, and then end at FM 1325. Loop 1 (Mopac) north was still planned to end at 183. On its south end, Mopac was still shown as terminating at Loop 360.

Also notice the planned routing of 183 in the southeast section of the city near the current Austin Airport (formerly Bergstrom Air Force Base). 183 was shown as being on a new location with a new bridge over the Colorado River.

1983 – Minor Adjustments to the 1980 Plan

Source: Austin Metropolitan Area Roadway Plan, third printing, July 1983
Austin 1983
High resolution(1308k)

Medium resolution(365k)

Low resolution(132k) This view is sufficient for seeing the plan layout

In this map dated February 1983, the as-built configuration of the 360/183 intersection was shown, with 360 stopping at 183 and Mopac continuing north of 183. On the south end, Mopac is now shown extending south of 360 over Barton Creek.

Also, state highway 130, then called the MoKan expressway, was not yet shown in the plan.

1985 – A World-Class Freeway Plan

Austin 1986
High resolution(171k)

Medium resolution(101k)

The 1985 Plan envisioned a sprawling network of freeways for the Austin area. It included a double loop system, and new freeways through environmentally sensitive areas.

In the early 1990’s, environmentalists took control of Austin City Council. Most of the new freeways in this plan were canceled in the next revision of the regional transportation plan. Realistically, however, there was almost no chance of ever getting the funding to fully construct all the freeways included in this plan.

The 1985 plan was another example of planners doing a good job to meet traffic flow needs. As Austin descends into hopeless gridlock, all these freeways are desperately needed.

Below is a listing of the fate of the new freeways.

Outer Loop, SH45 Nearly all of this freeway was cancelled in 1994. The only remaining pieces were about half of the northern segment and a short segment in the south.

In 2000, most of the outer parkway was restored to the plan. The western outer parkway remains cancelled. The north segment received enviromental clearance in July 2000 and will be constructed as a tollway, with construction probably starting in 2001. State highway 130 will form the eastern segment of the outer loop. Although the EIS is complte, it is uncertain if 130 will be built. If built, it will almost surely be a tollway. The southern alignment will connect the existing and funded sections of SH45 in south Austin to 130 south of Austin International Airport. This section is long-term and no planning has begun. In 2000, a local developer was talking about building the southern segment of SH45 as a private toll road.

Koenig Lane Freeway This freeway is the westward extension of 290 in north Austin from the existing 290 terminus at I-35. This freeway would have cut through some neighborhoods and faced severe opposition. It was cancelled in 1994 and probably is permanently dead.
2222 Freeway West of Loop 360, 2222 was designated as a parkway freeway. The freeway designation was cancelled in 1994. The route will be a 6 lane highway.
Mokan Freeway This became state highway 130. However, 130 is now being routed much further east (away from urbanized area) than shown in the 1985 map.

1987 – An extensive arterial network is planned for northwest Austin

Source: Planning map, dated February 5, 1987

The most interesting section of this map is the northwest section. It shows an extensive network of arterial roadways extending from Loop 360 to the west of RR 620, and finally all the way to the shores of Lake Travis. Arterial #8 would have extended Spicewood Springs from Loop 360 all the way to RR 620, roughly parallel to 2222. Numerous other arterial routes crisscross the region, which is now largely a wildlife preserve area.

Also of interest on this map is the lack of a designation of the Outer Parkway south of the 620/2222 intersection. Just at the edge of the map, 620 transitions from a parkway (freeway without feeders) to an arterial. The Outer Parkway would have followed Quinlan Park Road, and Quinlan Park road is not designated as a freeway or parkway on this map. (Note that Quinlan Park road is not visible on the map section shown.) So, it appears that the west section of the outer parkway was not officially adopted as of February 1987.

2222 is shown as a parkway between 620 and Loop 360, with a short freeway section near 620. However, between Loop 360 and Loop 1 (Mopac Blvd), no planned improvements are shown for the roadway. Finally, the 183a freeway north of 620 is shown as stopping at FM 1431. By 1994, it would be extended north of 1431 through Leander.

1994 – The freeway plan is gutted

Source: Austin Metropolitan Area Roadway Plan, adopted December 12, 1994

As noted above, the 1985 plan was substantially revised in 1994. The Loop 360 freeway, Koenig Lane freeway, 2222 freeway, and most of the outer parkway were canceled. However, there two new freeway additions to the plan

  • 130 new location – instead of using 183 in east Austin, a new location alignment is shown east of 183.
  • 183A far north Austin – the 183 freeway is now shown on new location. It will be built a a tollway, probably starting in 2002.
Austin 1994
High resolution(568k) Due to fine print, use this size to view road names

Medium resolution(346k)

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2000 – The new Mobility plan

Source: The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Plan to the Year 2025, adopted June 12, 2000

In June 2000, the new mobility plan for Austin was adopted. Since 1994, Austin has experienced a high-tech boom with explosive population growth and severe traffic congestion. The new plan adds new freeway designations to address the local gridlock. Environmentally sensitive West Austin remains devoid of freeways.

The Austin Transportation plan is once again in the expansion mode. Let’s hope history does not repeat itself in 5 years!

Austin 2000

High resolution(261k)

Note that Austin defines a “parkway” as a freeway without feeders.

The new freeway designations in the 2000 plan are shown in the table below.

SH 71 West, Oak Hill to Bee Cave This is an all-new freeway designation

SH 71 East of Airport The freeway designation for this facility has been extended eastward to the edge of the study area.
290 West The freeway designation for this facility has been extended westward to the edge of the study area. Previously, the freeway designation stopped at 1826, just west of Oak Hill.
290 East The freeway designation for this facility has been extended eastward, although not all all the way to the edge of the study area.
Outer Parkway south The southern leg of the outer parkway has been restored to the plan. It is shown as a parkway-tollway.
183 South South of SH 71 (alongside the new airport), 183 is now listed as a freeway.

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