The I-35/US-290 Interchange was built to reduce congestion, increase capacity, and provide access to main employment centers in Austin, TX. It was the final piece of the U.S. Interstate system to be built in Texas.
Project Type:Interchange Project Mode:Highway Average Annual Daily Traffic:62,000 Length (mi):2.70
Economic Distress:0.89 Population Density (ppl/sq mi):952 Population Growth Rate (%):2.10
Employment Growth Rate (%):1.36 Market Size:570,810 Airport Travel Distance:9 Topography:15
Region:Southwest State:TX County:Travis
City:Austin Urban/Class Level:Metro Local Area:Austin
Impact Area:County Transportation System:Highway GIS Lat/Long:30.321896 / -97.706893
Initial Study Date:2001 Post Constr. Study Date:2007
Constr. Start Date:1999 Constr. End Date:2002
Project Year of Expenditure (YOE): 2001 Planned Cost (YOE $):16,500,000
Actual Cost (YOE $):31,600,000 Actual Cost (curr $):41,566,579
NOTE: All pre/post dollar values are in 2013$
Select a region to display the conditions for that region:
NOTE: All impact dollar values are in 2013$
|Income (in $M's)||4.87||2.50||7.37|
|Output (in $M's)||15.21||7.82||23.03|
The I-35/US-290 Interchange (Exit 239 off of I-35) in Austin was completed in 2002 at a cost of $31.6 million. The interchange was the final piece of the U.S. Interstate system to be built in Texas. The project introduced new capacity to the rapidly-growing city, reducing congestion, and delivering savings benefits of $750,000 a year. Largely because it is located in a mature section of Austin, limited commercial development has taken place in the vicinity of the interchange during the eight years since the interchange was completed. Improved access to Austin's main employment centers has, however, facilitated new residential development in the vicinity, supporting an estimated 75 new jobs.
2.1 Location & Transportation Connections
The US-290/I-35 Interchange is located in central Austin, about three miles north of Downtown and two miles north of the University of Texas main campus. I-35 is an important NAFTA corridor that connects Monterrey, Mexico with Thunder Bay, Ontario. . Austin is 195 miles south of Dallas and 80 miles north of San Antonio on I-35.
US-290 links Austin with Port of Houston, 160 miles to the east. US-290 is used as a commuter route to Manor and Elgin on the eastern side of Travis County, which is experiencing strong growth trends. US-290 runs on the east side of I-35. South of the interchange, US-290 runs down a shared right-of-way with I-35 for eight miles until reaching Ben White Boulevard where US-290 separates from the Interstate and continues westward to Fredericksburg and I-10.
Austin's old airport, Mueller Field was located within 3 miles of the US-290/I-35 Intersection. Today, the new Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, opened in 1999, is about nine miles to the southeast. In early 2010, Austin's Capital Metro opened a 32 mile commuter rail route, including a station, "Highland", just to the northwest of the US 290 I-35 Interchange. The commuter rail line links Austin's northwestern suburbs to the eastern sections of Downtown Austin.
2.2 Community Character & Project Context
The US-290/I-35 Interchange is located in an older section of north-central Austin. Most of this area developed from 1960 to 1990 at low densities. The Highland Mall, just west of I-35 off the interchange, was Austin's first suburban-style enclosed mall, opened in 1971. The area also features a number of strip retail centers, townhome apartments, low-rise office buildings, and numerous hotels and motels. Just beyond the commercial areas built around the interchange, are single-family neighborhoods. A little more than one mile to the east and off of US-290, is a large mixed-use industrial park, including the main U.S. Postal Service sorting facility for Austin, warehouses, offices, and light-industrial manufacturing plants.
Although the Austin metropolitan area is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States, the growth has focused on outlying areas, particularly towards the north, south, and west. In the past 15 years, Downtown Austin has also experienced considerable infill development, with numerous new office and condominium towers as well as expanded retail areas. The Downtown area offers a mix of cultural venues, music clubs, and pedestrian-friendly shopping areas that have successfully attracted a younger, highly educated population that also serves as the labor force for Austin's thriving high-technology industries (e.g., software development, semiconductors, and semiconductor manufacturing equipment).
The area around the US-290/I-35 Interchange, however, is not located nearby the Downtown redevelopment areas nor is it a greenfield area?the type of area absorbing much of metropolitan Austin's growth. Median sales prices of homes nearby the interchange ($180,000 in early 2010) are about half the levels for Austin's central city areas ($325,000 to $500,000).
At this point, the interchange area has not attracted redevelopment (according to the City of Austin Planning Department) as Austin's development has been focused elsewhere (e.g., the trendy downtown areas and the greenfield sites on the outskirts). Longer term, redevelopment is likely to take place nearby the interchange, including the conversion of the Highland Mall to a campus for the Austin Community College system.
Planning for the US-290/I-35 Interchange (Exit 239) spanned decades. In the early 1970s, the new interchange was proposed as part of a plan to build a new east-west highway through central Austin on Koenig Lane linking I-35 on the east and a new north-south highway, Loop 1 ("Mopac"), on the west. The original model of the Interchange included six connector ramps to the proposed east-west freeway. However, due to strong local opposition (Koenig Lane runs through several Austin neighborhoods) combined with a series of nationwide Interstate cancellations in the 1970s, the freeway was never built. Without the addition of the new freeway to the west, the design of the interchange was simplified, removing several of the initially proposed ramps.
The US-290/I-35 Interchange was the last work piece planned for the U.S. Interstate system to be constructed in Austin. As part of the system, funding had been set aside for the interchange and could not be shifted to another location. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) included the interchange in its TIP. . Funding for the US-290/I-35 Interchange was further supplemented by the National Highway System Designation Act (of 1995). With funding in place and growing worries that the timeframe for spending the Interstate monies initially designated for the project was going to expire, the US-290/I-35 Interchange finally moved into a design-ready phase and construction began in May 1999. The project was completed at a cost of $31.6 million in February 2002 according to TxDOT.
4.1 Transportation Impacts
The project provided needed infrastructure allowing Travis County to catch up, in terms of transportation capacity at least in one section of the region, following decades of fast traffic growth accompanied by worsening congestion. Since the completion of the interchange in 2002, traffic numbers on US-290 just to the east of the interchange and on a segment of I-35 just to the north, are a testament to the continued fast growth Austin and Travis County.
In 1980, more than twenty years before the opening of the interchange, US-290 and I-35 handled 30,000 and 79,000 vehicles per day, respectively. By 1998, just before the beginning of construction, daily traffic had mushroomed to 60,000 and 223,000, on the two segments, respectively. Nine years later, in 2007, traffic levels on the segment of I-35 just north of the interchange had increased by an additional 10.3 percent to 246,000 vehicles per day while US-290 remained close to unchanged (62,000 vehicles.
Houston accounts for 8 percent (5 million tons annually) of intrastate truck freight either originating or destined for Austin. The overwhelming majority of these trucks will either use SH-71 or US-290 from I-35 to reach Houston. Also, on a daily basis, hundreds of commuters from Elgin and Manor use the interchange to reach jobs, mainly in central Austin (Downtown, state government complex, and the University of Texas).
Prior to the opening of the Interchange and its series of ramps, trucks and cars traveling east and west had to sit at traffic lights before crossing I-35 and its frontage roads. Vehicles also had to stop at traffic lights to gain access to the frontage roads and ramps to enter I-35. The time savings for these improvements add up to about 9 hours per day for trucks and 450 hours per day for cars going through the interchange on US-290. On an annual basis, this represents about a $750,000 per year dollar savings, based on an overall $7 per hour value of time for passenger cars (all trips) and a $25 per hour value of time for freight trucks.
4.2 Demographic, Economic & Land Use Impacts
The US-290/I-35 Interchange serves Travis County, the central county of the Austin metropolitan area. Travis County is one of the fastest growing large counties in the country adding 123,000 people between 2001 and 2007. During that period, Travis County grew by 14.5 percent compared to 11.7 percent for the entire State of Texas. Two small suburbs on US-290, Manor and Elgin, both experienced very fast growth between 2001 and 2007 following the completion of the interchange. Manor's population more than doubled to 3,347 residents and Elgin's grew by 60% to 9,703 over this 6-year time span.
Austin-Manor-Elgin, along US-290, forms a growth corridor for the region, with plentiful land better able to accommodate business and population expansion than Travis County's environmentally sensitive west side. Travis County has tended to grow towards Lake Travis in the west. Although the area's scenery attracts residential and commercial growth, its hilly (and poorly drained) topography and wildlife protection areas limit the scale of longer-term growth. Until recently, the eastern parts of Travis County have remained largely rural and slower growing than the west. The higher capacity US-290/I-35 Interchange will help accommodate the traffic growth (commuter and freight truck) that will coincide with the more intensive development of the eastern side of Travis County.
As a result of the Tech Bust of 2001-2002, the number of jobs in the three zip-codes immediately adjacent to the US-290/I-35 Interchange declined by 12 percent between 2001 and 2007, while jobs in the larger Travis County area remained stable. The loss of jobs immediately adjacent to the interchange was also likely affected by the decline of the Highland Mall, opened in 1971, which has recently lost its long-held position as a flagship regional shopping destination in Travis County. Longer term, redevelopment is likely to take place nearby the interchange, including the conversion of the Highland Mall to a campus for the Austin Community College system. The development potential of the area will also be enhanced by a new Capital Metro commuter rail line that includes a stop at Highland Mall.
The two small suburbs to the east on US-290, Manor and Elgin, added about 1,000 jobs during the period, a 34 percent increase. These job gains are likely due to jobs needed to support the area's strong population growth and do not necessarily connote a locational advantage due to the improved access provided by the US-290/I-35 Interchange. However, the interchange has helped the two suburbs overall curb appeal to commuters and hence supported their population growth. By enabling the population growth (and the jobs needed to support that growth), the interchange is estimated to have created about 75 new jobs to the two suburbs. . This estimate is based on linking growth in local jobs and population in Manor and Elgin to the commuter flows from the two suburbs to Central Austin via the US-290/I-35 Interchange. According to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization surveys, about 19 percent of workers would use the interchange to reach their jobs. As this workforce population has grown strongly, employment in local services and retailing is generated.
According to the Travis County Assessor's Office, the value of taxable property has increased significantly since the US-290/I-35 Interchange was completed, from $57.5 billion in 2001 to $84.8 billion in 2007 (both in current dollars). The increase is primarily due to overall strong growth and residential expansion in the region. In Manor, the total assessed property value grew five-fold from $35 million in 2001 to $209 million in 2007.
Low relative residential costs and improved access, both to downtown Austin via the new US-290/I-35 Interchange and to Austin Bergstrom International Airport, via the recently completed SH-130, were cited as catalysts for the new development. According to the Manor Chamber of Commerce, the median price of a home in the city increased by 160% between 2000 and 2009 from $60,000 to $158,000. During the same period, the median value of a home in the Austin metropolitan area rose by less than 30%, from $144,500 to $186,000.
The new interchange at US-290/I-35 has had a low economic impact in terms of business attraction or local development. The project added transportation capacity and increased traffic reliability in a very fast growing large city and county. Because the project is in an older part of the city that is not the focus of growth and its timing has corresponded with the declining popularity of the Highland Mall which was formerly a regional attraction, it makes it difficult to discern the direct development effects of the US-290/I-35 Interchange. In addition, the heavy toll that the Tech Bust of the early millennium took on Travis County makes it more challenging to interpret the post-project data.
City of Austin, Planning and Development Review Department
Manor Chamber of Commerce
TxDOT, Austin District
Case Study developed by Cambridge Systematics