Why Is Austin Moving So Far From San Antonio?
by
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
June 20, 2002

Last time I checked, the sign at our City Limits said "Austin, 87 Miles".  If that is the case, then the distance has not changed in all my life because it has always been 87 miles more or less, from San Antonio. What has changed however is the time to travel between here and our State Capitol and a whole lot of other places along the way.

You cannot help but notice that the drive-time is nearly incapable of being estimated.  When I drove to the Capitol in my State Representative days, I could regularly and consistently reach Austin between one hour and fifteen to one hour and a half, without fail!  Today, you may reach Austin in either of those two times or in two and a half hours.  Regrettably, I am not sure we can depend on continued highway expansions being the only solution to the problem. 

Many have heard the figures that the truck traffic on IH 35 has grown 800% since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed.  Driving this highway only confirms the figures.  And according to the Federal Highway Administration, increased population growth and booming NAFTA truck traffic will create an anticipated demand for up to 18 lanes of north/south interstate capacity through our region by the year 2025!  Now 23 years away is nearly a lifetime, but I believe the present condition will increasingly continue to interfere with our use and enjoyment of this region unless something different is done.  

One solution already in progress is the construction of State Highway 130 coming out of Seguin to Georgetown.  The estimated cost is $925 million, including right-of-way.  The estimated cost of adding two travel lanes to IH 35 from Georgetown to San Antonio is $425 million. The estimated capital cost of a rudimentary commuter rail option is $475 million.  These figures quoted above are from the Austin-San Antonio Commuter Rail Study.   See the "System Summary" table below.

Another seemingly cheap solution to IH 35 congestion is to simply go up 281 North through the Hill Country to Highway 290 into Austin.  Anyone who has been up 281 North from Loop 1604 knows what kind of congestion is building and what awaits all that will continue to travel this route.  To add to the Hill Country congestion is not my idea of good stewardship and surely will detract from and overwhelm this beautiful area of Texas.

What really compelled me to think about commuter rail has been the gargantuan parking lots on IH 35 and the loss of time to the traffic.  Furthermore, the fact that instead of us Texans picking up the tab for yet another two lanes from Georgetown, the rail alternative which has a similar ballpark pricetag, would allow the federal government to pick up half the cost of construction.  The passengers and a less than two-tenths of a percent sales tax would finance the commuter rail and provide transportation that would be reasonably priced and hassle-free.

A commuter rail from San Antonio to Austin is not a certainty and will not be an overnight proposition.  Neither will it take a lifetime to construct should it meet with approval of voters.  Estimates begin with four to six years.  Although much delayed, we should seriously look at our options now and see if we can clear up the congestion before total gridlock sets in on this corridor.  It just seems to me that the more we wait, the more we pay and literally wait, on IH 35!

System Summary

Train Schedule:

Peak Hours (2 Hrs AM, 2 Hrs PM): Every 30 minutes
Off Peak: Every 90 minutes

One-Way Fares:

2 Zones (Austin to San Antonio): $9.00
1 Zones (San Marcos to either end): $4.50

Travel Time: Austin to San Antonio – 103 Minutes

System Length: 110 Miles

Stations: 12

Average Speed: 45 mph

Operating Hours: 6 AM to 10 PM

Ridership:

Year 2000: 8,000 per weekday
Year 2020: 11,000 per weekday

Grade Crossings:

Grade Separated Crossings: 56
New Crossings: 6
Improved At-grade Crossing: 117

Costs (1998):

Construction:

New track option: $475 Million
Shared track option: $250 Million

Operations & Maintenance: $24 million per year

Financing:

Construction:

Federal – 50%
Regional – 50% (0.11 tax)

Operations & Maintenance:

Passenger Fares – 55%
Federal – 10%
Regional – 35% (.0015 tax)

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