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  • Writer's pictureMolly Becker

New bus lane plan seeks to ease congestion near the Drag

Updated: May 8, 2019

Big changes are coming to Guadalupe Street near the University of Texas next month as transportation officials aim to ease the commute from downtown Austin to the Drag, one of the most congested parts of the city for Capital Metro buses.

Buses headed north on Lavaca Street will no longer be allowed to turn left on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to make the transition into northbound Guadalupe Street. Instead, they’ll now turn left on 18th Street — one block south of the busy intersection — before hanging a right onto Guadalupe Street.

Guadalupe Street is a one-way, southbound road in that area, but buses will be able to travel north on a new dedicated bus lane between 18th Street and Martin Luther King.

Transportation officials say the goal is to speed up bus travel in the busy corridor.

“We have 14 bus routes that operate through the intersection of Lavaca and MLK currently trying to make their way to the Drag. It’s one of the highest congestion points for us,” Cap Metro senior planner Caitlin D’Alton said. “This is really an opportunity with the city to expedite travel for our customers while also improving conditions for bikes and pedestrians.”

The city previously had tried to address congestion in that intersection by installing a bus-only, left-turn lane on Lavaca just south of Martin Luther King, along with a special traffic signal called a “transit queue jump” that flashes a vertical white line to signal buses to go ahead of vehicle traffic.

But the Austin Transportation Department says that setup has confused motorists, who still aren’t sure what lane to get in to turn left. Austin Transportation Department Assistant Director Jim Dale said it’s such a tricky spot, the city has had to place a police officer in the street near the intersection to help direct traffic.

“With the amount of congestion we have up there, at the evening especially, people were getting in the wrong lanes, lanes they shouldn’t be in,” he said. “That was a challenge we were having.”

The city has held several meetings to try to come up with a solution and settled on the new system. In May, crews will begin re-striping lanes and installing new traffic signals.

A transit queue jump will be placed at 18th Street to signal buses to turn left ahead of vehicle traffic from their dedicated northbound bus lane. Several parking spots will have to be removed from 18th Street to accommodate the buses, officials said.

But the biggest change will be the addition of the bus-only northbound lane on Guadalupe Street between 18th Street and Martin Luther King, Dale said. Currently, that part of the road has two lanes for vehicle traffic headed southbound. Transportation officials say those two southbound lanes will still exist. They will be separated from the new northbound lane by flexible, yellow plastic posts so the new orientation is obvious to drivers.

“We are looking throughout this process for ways to make sure this is really clear and intuitive to all users of the road,” D’Alton said.

The project also includes the addition of a new bike and pedestrian path along the northbound bus lane on Guadalupe Street. After the fixes, the Transportation Department will re-orient traffic at the intersection of Lavaca Street and Martin Luther King, which will have two left-turn lanes for vehicles, a left-turn lane for bikes, a right-turn lane for vehicles and buses, and a right-turn lane for bikes.

The project is expected to be completed by September. It is being paid for with money from a $720 million mobility bond approved by voters in 2016. Officials did not have a final cost estimate on the improvements.

Officials say crews will not work during peak travel times, and traffic disruption will be minimal. Drivers can, however, expect intermittent lane closures on Lavaca and Guadalupe streets during construction as well as narrowing of the lanes on 18th Street.

The Transportation Department said the changes will allow buses to move about 18% faster through the busy corridor, saving each about 65 seconds during peak travel hours in the evening.

By Mary Huber

Posted Apr 23, 2019 at 7:29 PM

Updated Apr 23, 2019 at 7:38 PM

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