A Central Texas highway is gaining favor over I-35 for some drivers, a trend fueled by the region's tech hub status and rapidly growing populations.
Traffic on the southern end of Texas State Highway 130 has skyrocketed and reached an all-time high last year, according to a new report by the highway operator.
The toll road, which stretches 91 miles from north of Austin to Seguin, is marketed by the concession company operating it as "a high-speed alternative to Interstate 35," with the company running the southern section since 2012.
“More drivers are choosing SH 130 than ever before because it provides the only high-speed alternative to I-35 between two of the nation’s fastest-growing metro areas—and it’s safe, predictable and enjoyable to drive,” said Doug Wilson, CEO of SH 130 Concession Company.
SH130 is one of the the fastest highways in the country at a speed limit of 85 mph. (SH 130 Concession Company, LLC)
A few factors, including pandemic recovery, population growth and increased development along the corridor, have driven the increased traffic. Last year, the operators counted a 3.7 million increase in the number of people driving on SH 130 between Austin and San Antonio, with a total of more than 9.7 million.
Wilson described the corridor as the “epicenter of development in Central Texas.” Located in the "Texas Triangle," the concession company touts that it's a reliable route for commercial drivers moving goods to and from Texas' southern ports and the international airports in the region. Plus, some tech giants could also be upping traffic on SH 130.
“With Tesla recently opening its manufacturing facility on the corridor and a massive new Samsung facility on the horizon, we expect these development and traffic trends along this corridor to continue,” Wilson said.
With an 85 mph speed limit— the highest in the country—and a minimum of two lanes in each direction, congestion isn't completely avoidable. Last year’s traffic exceeded pre-pandemic levels. And heavy traffic also saw a high boost, increasing 50%.
But crashes haven't risen with the traffic. They actually decreased last year to an estimated 34 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.