It is no surprise to long-time Austin residents that our city’s population boom is causing serious congestion on local roads. The good news is that regional transportation authorities are working hard to address this growth and have begun work on two much-needed transportation projects in the Austin area: the Oak Hill Parkway (US 290 West) in Oak Hill and SH 45 SW in southern Travis County. What makes these projects just a little different is that both are committed to incorporating Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS), a decision-making and design process that not only addresses the fundamental need for a roadway to move vehicles, it also carefully considers the roadway’s relationship with the community and the landscape through which it passes.

Working with Rodriguez Transportation Group (RTG), RVi has begun conceptual design on these highway projects and will be working closely with the team’s transportation engineers and public involvement specialists to develop solutions that balance the necessity of moving vehicles safely and efficiently with the needs of the community.

While both of these projects will utilize CSS to develop solutions that are sensitive to and well-integrated with their context, each highway has a very unique context that will require the use of a CSS approach tailored specifically for that corridor. Let’s take a closer look.

Oak Hill Parkway
Located just 8 miles from downtown Austin, the “Y” at Oak Hill (as it is known to locals) is where
US
290 and 
SH
71 meet. Considered to be one of the 50 most congested highway corridors in Texas, the “Y” has been the focus of several proposals to relieve congestion, as well as the subject of contentious debate among stakeholders since the 1980s. With just four lanes squeezing through a narrow right-of-way constrained by businesses, limestone cliffs, the expansive Williamson Creek floodplain, and several ancient Live Oaks, a workable solution has proven to be elusive. As technically demanding as the engineering may be, satisfying a diverse stakeholder group has proven to be a challenge in its own right.

Enter CSS. With a proven public involvement strategy at its core, the CSS process enabled a series of well-attended public workshops in 2013 that allowed the project team to create a shared stakeholder vision and enabled stakeholders to collaborate and work towards consensus for a solution. Today, the project is moving forward with several viable route options under consideration. In the end, it may well be that the CSS process will prove to have been more effective at achieving consensus and moving the project forward than the actual solution itself.

SH 45 SW
Traversing 3.6 miles of Texas Hill Country between MoPac and FM 1626, this corridor passes through the environmentally-sensitive Barton Springs Recharge Zone and the Balcones Canyonland Preserve. Because of these features, the proposed roadway has been at the center of on-going environmental and political controversy since it was proposed in the 1980s. If there is consensus today, it is that the highway should have a nominal environmental “footprint,” be highly sustainable, and incorporate “green” infrastructure.

While the CSS approach for SH 45 will include public involvement, unlike the Oak Hill Parkway, emphasis will be placed on flexible transportation solutions that preserve and enhance the natural environmental features of the corridor and protect its “silent” stakeholders – the wildlife that call it home. While employing the CSS process will certainly be an important facet of this project’s delivery, creative and sustainable solutions will play a more vital role in achieving consensus for a solution and getting the support needed to bring it to fruition.

 

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