Citizens get first look at Oakland Avenue, First Avenue SW reconstruction project

Published 1:33 pm Thursday, November 9, 2023

Citizens of Austin got their first real look at one of Austin’s biggest upcoming reconstruction projects during the first of what will be a handful of informational meetings Wednesday night at the Austin Public Library.

The work in question involves stretches of Oakland Avenue and First Avenue SW over a span of 25 blocks overall. The work will include Oakland Avenue from 12th Street NW to First Street NE and First Avenue SW from 12th Street SW to Main Street.

Presented by Kyle Skov of WHKS, the firm working on street construction design, the meeting garnered discussion right from the end of his presentation, as citizens shared concerns over aspects of the designs being considered. Those concerns ranged from parking to the inclusion of bike lanes in the final design.

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Final designs are expected by October of 2024, bidding completed by December of 2024 with the hope of construction starting in the Spring of 2025. The project itself is scheduled for three years ranging from 2025-2027.

Skov highlighted two fluid plans currently being considered and both would include narrowing of the roads.

One would make both roadways four feet narrower and would include five-foot sidewalks, seven-foot boulevards and nine-foot parking.

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Vehicles head west on Oakland Avenue West Friday morning. Herald file photo

second idea would eliminate a lane of parking on the south side of the streets, while increasing the width of the sidewalk on the north side, and potentially add a bike lane.

Skov pointed out several possible benefits to the ideas including meeting traffic impacts, making pedestrian traffic more accessible, making the roads bike-friendly, larger boulevards and optimization of traffic signals.

However, many in the audience objected to the idea of taking away parking and narrowing the roadways, especially those with businesses that utilize it as a part of their parking spaces.

“I don’t see that being a good idea,” said Kelly Nesvold, who owns Wellness 1st Chiropractic.

Many echoed this idea, rallying around the idea of leaving the road width the way it is, with many more questioning the need for a bicycle lane.

The concerns there were safety for anybody using a bicycle on both roadways, which are two of the most busy thoroughfares in the city and adding that those roads aren’t used much by cyclists in the first place, further adding that they don’t connect with any bicycle trails in Austin.

Some people also doubted that the finished project would calm traffic speeds, going against what Skov said studies have reflected on projects such as this.

According to Skov, construction will be done in phases and average out to around eight blocks every year of the project and impacts during construction could include limiting vehicle access, impact intersection usage, brief interruptions in water usage (but not sewer services), driveways to homes, garbage pick-up as well as the necessity in some cases for temporary or permanent easements to property.

So far, the city has secured a little over $5 million in grant funding for the project with Assistant City Engineer Mitch Wenum saying that the city was looking to secure more grant funding before construction starts.

Even though concerns were raised about the project, designers and city engineers assured people that they were still very early in the process and that those concerns issued Wednesday were the reason for the meeting.

“Your voices will be carried forward,” City Engineer Steven Lang said. “We’ll take the info gathered over the next few months and take it to the council for a decision.”