Councilmembers back bill encouraging truck drivers to get off I-35, use SH-130

Some members of the Austin City Council, including Mayor Steve Adler, are throwing their support behind a bill that would encourage some big rig drivers to get off I-35 and onto SH-130.

Thursday the council will vote on an ordinance endorsing HB 594 and its companion in the Texas Senate.

The bills belong to State Representative Celia Israel, D-Austin, and Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Israel wants to see money set aside for TxDOT to offer reduced tolls for truck drivers.

"It's not as well used as it was planned but it's built and let's make use of it," said Israel. She says it is also about safety. Austin does not have a hazardous materials route for truck drivers. She says first responders are receptive to the idea of rerouting some of those loads. Drivers like the idea of plans to help reduce congestion.

"Every time I talk to people they are wondering why we don't already have it," said Israel. Israel knows Austin's traffic troubles all too well.

TxDOT estimates that congestion costs Texans $196 million every year. Big trucks make up about 23 percent of the traffic on I-35. According to TxDOT since the agency offered reduced tolls to truck drivers the number of large truck transactions on SH 130 increased by about 45 percent. That means the discount diverted more than 1,000 trucks every day according to the city.

Israel says the plan would cost between $18 and $20 million which she says is already there for the transportation agency.

"The money is parked and identified we just need to get this bill passed to give TxDOT the ability to do this program in a sustainable way," added Israel. If it passes the cost of a 50 mile trip down SH- 130 would drop from $54 to $9 for truck drivers.

"It's our chance to say we think it's needed," said Austin City Councilmember Ann Kitchen who represents District 5. Interstate 35 runs through part of her district and she hears from constituents about the traffic problems in the city. She's signed on as a co-sponsor to Councilmember Gregario Casar's ordinance.

"We cannot address our transportation problems by ourselves," said Kitchen who chairs the council committee on mobility.

Israel knows congestion costs both time and money and drivers are ready to see some type of relief.

The bill is expected to be voted out of the transportation committee sometime soon. Israel is assigned to that committee.