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Austin’s most dangerous intersections to get fixes

Tuesday, September 22, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

There may not be a silver bullet that will fix Austin’s increasing traffic fatality problems, but the city is taking a leap forward by funding safety improvements to its five most dangerous intersections starting in October.

With little fanfare, City Council included the projects – compiled by the Transportation Department – in the Fiscal Year 2015-16 budget that it adopted on Sept. 12.

“Of course, we’re not going to stop there,” said Council Member Ann Kitchen, who proposed the funding, in an interview with the Austin Monitor on Monday. “We’re doing other things related to traffic safety, but this is some immediate action that we can take with some immediate dollars so the Transportation Department can get started.”

While the total amount needed to improve the intersections is $3.8 million, Transportation Department staff and Council found most of the money by shifting around existing funding and pulled the remaining $1.3 million from previously unallocated one-time funds.

The intersections, in order of collision frequency and severity, are West Slaughter Lane and Manchaca Road; Lamar Boulevard and Rundberg Lane; Lamar Boulevard and Parmer Lane; U.S. 183 Service Road and Cameron Road; and I-35 Service Road Southbound and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Improvements relate primarily to traffic flow management techniques such as installing raised medians and reorganizing turning lanes in order to reduce speeds and unsafe turns as well as ensure that drivers yield to one another, cyclists and pedestrians.

Transportation Department spokeswoman Samantha Alexander told the Monitor on Monday that staff from her department has not yet determined when planning and construction will begin on the improvements or in what order they will be taken up. Transportation Department staff plans to meet with the Contract Management Department staff to discuss the scope of each project, contract procurements and other details.

To date, there have been 79 traffic fatalities in Austin this year. There were 63 in all of 2014.

The city is not waiting around for these projects to get started, however, and has a number of transportation safety planning initiatives underway. The Vision Zero Task Force, for example, is a stakeholder group charged with developing recommendations that will aid the city in reaching its goal of preventing all traffic fatalities.

Scott Johnson, a community member on the task force, told the Monitor on Monday that he is most excited about the proposed improvements at the intersections of U.S. 183 Service Road and Cameron Road and I-35 Service Road Southbound and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard due to their high volumes of pedestrians.

Johnson added that education and outreach for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians is a key tool in raising awareness of the surge in traffic fatalities and ways to prevent them.

“How we can message that both through the city as well as through advocacy groups is something that we have to work on, and we have to make it such a robust effort with such compelling information,” Johnson said. “You have to make it vital or useful to the person’s life as to why they should listen and pay attention to it.”

Johnson added that the city should also work to make sure it engages people who aren’t permanent Austin residents and who don’t speak English as their first language.

Francis Reilly of the Planning and Zoning Department told the Monitor on Monday that the Vision Zero Task Force’s draft recommendations will likely be available this fall with an action plan available for Council consideration this winter.

Among other initiatives, Transportation Department staff is working on a Safety Improvement Plan that involves evaluating and improving intersection safety as well as a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan that is slated to come out by the end of the year.

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