Wednesday, August 11, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

Red River extension into Rainey neighborhood draws concern from MACC backers

The city’s Transportation Department is circulating the latest plans for a southern expansion of Red River Street, which would create a new thoroughfare through the Rainey Street neighborhood to address growing traffic concerns.

While the heaviest public comment on the proposed plan will take place this fall, department officials have started discussing the project with leaders of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, which could see some of its parkland property converted to street use under early designs.

No decision has been made on whether the extension will take place or how it would be funded. Dan Hennessey, a project manager for the Transportation Department, said public feedback gathered over most of the next year will help to determine if it moves forward.

Hennessey said if City Council approves the project, funding would likely not be allocated until 2024, though collections from the city’s new street impact fees plan, which will begin to accrue next summer, could help to cover some of the costs.

Among the difficulties facing the project is the use of parkland for a public street, as well as the need to acquire a portion of a private driveway serving a nearby hotel and a residential tower.

“We’re reaching out to say here is the history and what this might look like, but otherwise it is to say we are going to be coming to you again over the next six to 12 months to talk and figure out if this could become a reality or not,” Hennessey said. “The city of Austin Transportation Department doesn’t own and operate those roadways so there would have to be a lot of collaboration to determine if we could make that a reality.”

The extension has been in discussion in various city circles for roughly five years, primarily because of the need to provide more access points to the area for residents, hotel guests and visitors of the bars and nightclubs scattered throughout the neighborhood. Several plans, including a 2017 neighborhood mobility study and MACC’s 2018 master plan, included the project as a means to address the traffic issues for the tightly bound area.

“One thing that’s come about through all the studies of the Rainey neighborhood is this is the chance to have a big impact,” Hennessey said. “With it being locked in on three sides with Waller Creek, the lake and I-35, there’s only so much access to and from the neighborhood, and being able to connect Red River Street from Davis to River Street is an opportunity to provide more options for drivers or pedestrians. Right now there is no other alternative for that neighborhood.”

Discussion of the project at the July meeting of MACC’s board drew early worries from community leaders concerned about the impact of parallel parking along much of the expansion and the loss of existing dedicated parking spaces for MACC visitors.

Art Navarro, vice chair of the board, said he and other leaders are in talks about alternative ways to bring more people to the property and in and out of the area without creating a new thoroughfare connecting westward to River Street.

“It’s problematic in many ways, the first being that it’s on dedicated parkland …. For dedicated parkland to become a thoroughfare and a two-way street with parallel parking on both sides, that would be a significant cut into the MACC campus,” he said, noting that the board has not taken an official position on the project.

“We’re mindful of the needs of Rainey Street and of the neighborhood that has become very dense. I’ve been talking with our chair to try to come up with a workaround that could accommodate the city in helping with traffic in the area, but I don’t know that I could go for any thoroughfare all the way through the area.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center: An Austin center with exhibits and events that explore Mexican-American heritage and culture.

Rainey Street: Once a quiet residential street, Rainey Street quickly transformed once the historic district was incorporate into the Central Business District in 2004. Currently, the street remains in transition as the bars in the original homes there make way for larger development projects.

Transportation Department: This city department is responsible for municipal transportation planning including roadways and bikeways.

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