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by BRAD ROLLINS

A city contractor is drafting plans for widening a stretch of Hunter Road, a project now expected to include construction of a roundabout where the major north-south thoroughfare intersects with San Antonio and Dixon streets.

This drawing shows a cross-section of five-lane portion of the Hunter Road extension, from Purgatory Creek to Wonder World Drive. Between Purgatory Creek and Bishop Street, the widening would be three lanes either with or without bike lanes, depending on the amount of right-of-way available.

This drawing shows a cross-section of five-lane portion of the Hunter Road extension, from Purgatory Creek


View Hunter Road widening, roundabout in a larger map

The project, which has been in the works since January 2010, would widen about 4,000 feet of Hunter Road between Bishop Street and Wonder World Drive, to three- and five-lane segments with bicycle traffic accommodated either on sidewalks or bike lanes. It also includes a bridge over Purgatory Creek where flooding periodically closes the existing low-water crossing.

But widening the road alone won’t relieve all congestion on that stretch of road, traffic engineers told council members during a regular meeting earlier this month. That’s because the irregular intersections with San Antonio and Dixon streets will continue to snarl traffic and pose a safety hazard unless they are addressed, they said.

“Corridor capacity is not defined purely by the number of lanes. It’s defined by the efficacy of the intersections. Although a roadway has the capacity of up to 1,900 vehicles per hour per lane, it is the intersections, those valves that control how much traffic can go through,” said Gary Schatz, an Austin civil engineering assistant director who gave council members a crash course on the use of roundabouts. “It’s like going to Home Depot and buying a pipe this-big but only buying a valve this-big to go on it.”

San Antonio Street intersects Hunter at a 60 degree angle, Kimley Horn engineer Brian Becker said, which makes some turns difficult and ensures northbound traffic on Hunter does not slow down as it zips onto San Antonio. In addition, Hunter’s intersection with Dixon street less than 150 feet away from San Antonio creates conflict during peak hours as cars try to turn into, or out from, surrounding residential areas.

Becker proposed instead rerouting Dixon Street through currently vacant lots to intersect Hunter more or less squarely across from San Antonio. Instead of a stop sign, traffic light or nothing at all, Becker recommended construction of a 105-foot diameter roundabout to move cars through the junction and signal the start of the Hopkins and San Antonio streets historical districts.

“A roundabout is a perfect use for intersections with irregular geometry, which is the situation that you see here… It’s a great traffic calming device. It just lets people know that you’re leaving from an auto-centric area south of this intersection into a more people-centric area as you get into the historic district[s],” Becker said.

San Marcos planners have embraced roundabouts lately, building two on Cheatham Street in the Rio Vista Terrace and proposing them elsewhere, including at North LBJ Drive at Holland Street and at Stagecoach Trail and Snyder Hill Drive at the entrance to the Willow Creek neighborhood.

Roundabouts reduce the risk of total auto crashes by 40 percent, of crashes causing injury by about 70 percent and of fatal crashes by about 90 percent over intersections with traffic lights, according to an Insurance Institute of Highway Safety study, Schatz said.

“I’m telling you folks that I have no other tool in the toolbox that is that good,” Schatz said.

Council member Wayne Becak, wary of the expanding pricetag on the project, wondered if the re-routed street and roundabout might be overkill. He suggested that the planned center turn lane on Hopkins would ease traffic flow through the intersections.

“I don’t understand why we’re going to close a perfectly good street, buy right-of-way and build another street. Now that we’re going to have a center turn lane I don’t see any problem with the amount of traffic that’s on Hunter. I drive that several times a day. The problem is that there aren’t any turn lanes… Seems like a turn lane is going to solve that,” Becak said.

A majority of his colleagues, however, said they like the roundabout idea and instructed city staff to include it in the project design.

The Hunter Road widening was anticipated to cost $6.9 million when it was authorized by the city council in January 2010. At the time, council member Ryan Thomason argued on behalf of a less-expensive plan that would have saved $1.8 million by using a low-water crossing engineered for a 25-year flood instead of a full-fledged bridge over Purgatory Creek.

The council at the time opted for the more expensive package, in part, because they wanted bicycle and pedestrian traffic to be able to pass underneath the bridge as a connection between the Purgatory Creek Natural Area trail system and the rest of the city.

Under questioning from council members John Thomaides and Kim Porterfield, however, Becker said the creek channel would need to be dredged to allow enough clearance for walkers and bikers to pass underneath, adding complexity and cost to the project. Said Porterfield, “That was not the direction the council gave.”

City Manager Jim Nuse and engineer Linda Huff said they would find a way to make the pedestrian connection.

The Hunter road project is being paid for with $6 million in state Proposition 12 funds appropriated by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization in addition to $4.2 million saved when the Wonder World Drive extension project came in under budget. Construction is expected to start in August 2013 and last about a year.

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15 thoughts on “Roundabout planned for Hunter Road intersections

  1. I think “roundabouts” are a bad idea. They work OK when traffic is light, but not so good in heavy traffic. Just ask anyone who has spent any time in Washington, D.C. The locals go out of their way to avoid many of the circles/roundabouts. They are really just very expensive speed bumps/traffic calming devices. I agree with Wayne Becak. Just widen Hunter Road and put in a turn lane and 90% of the problem is solved for a fraction of the cost.

  2. I think I like the idea. It would certainly make for a better distinction of where the historic district begins and set that area off from just being part of Hunter Road.

    Roundabout work great in England where they have been used for centuries. I spent a semester in college over there and found them scary at first but once you got use to driving in them, they were much better than red lights. The problem is, we are not used to driving in them and people get intimidated and end up stopping instead of merging and keeping on going!

  3. I like the idea, and to piggy-back on Curtis’ comment, driving into a roundabout in England is extra terrifying (or exhilarating, depending on your mood) because you’re driving on the left. Wheee!!

    The roundabout should be combined with a lower speed limit for W. San Antonio St. And the city could pay for this roundabout by installing traffic cameras at the stop sign intersections on W. San Antonio. For too many drivers, it’s as if those signs don’t even exist. They just blow right through them.

  4. A buddy and I went to England to school together and when we got there, we bought a POS Austin Princess (car) to drive around. It was actually a pretty quick adjustment for us to go to the other seat but man, was it hard changing back when we got back home! I loved the roundabout over there. They were not much of a traffic calming device, though! Of course, those Europeans drive like bats out of hell anyway so roundabouts certainly don’t slow them down much!

  5. I like roundabouts. I lived with them in the UK and downtown New Braunfels. Long ago we called them traffic circles and a big one was situated where US Hwy 81 (now IH 35) intersects south Guadalupe Street. Liking traffic circles though I do, one at Hopkins/Dixon/San Antonio Streets is a bad idea because it does not need to be done and would take up more real estate than necessary. I drive that route at least twice per day and have done so for years. Most people with half a brain avoid that end of San Antonio St. anyway–I rarely use it inbound to town due to the idiot speed bumps and never use it outbound preferring rather to take Bishop to Hopkins and wait for the light. Table it and in a decade to so, consider it again.

  6. I’m trying to make sense of this depiction. Was this provided by the developer? Or is this a Mercury special? 🙂 If you look at the two, it appears the road is inserted into land that doesn’t exist, like we can just push the house over to the right a little & magically insert the road into the void. In reality, wouldn’t that road would go right through that house? I’m all for improving traffic, but is the traffic from hunter to Dixon or San Antonio so bad that we need to seize land from a home owner & their family to build a round-a-bout? I’ve learned that part of Belvin & Dixon are actually useless streets unless you are taking a right off them. Add a turning lane if the concern is backing up traffic on Hunter/Hopkins during rush hour when those who haven’t figured it out yet try to make a left off Hunter instead of going to the light at Bishop. It seems to me that a round-a-bout is going to slow down traffic and back up that road just as much. Though yes, round-a-bouts are cool. But if I want to pretend I’m in England (or New Braunfels) I can just drive down Cheatham now.

  7. I think this plan will increase traffic on south Belvin as folks seek to avoid the back-up at the light. Today they struggle to make a left onto Dixon so they just suffer through the light. On the plus side, it’ll discourage truck traffic on Hopkins as I’m sure trucks will struggle with a roundabout.

  8. A Public Meeting will be held for this project on June 6th from 6pm to 8pm at the San Marcos Activity Center.

    The TxDOT Open House is going to be held at the Activity Center, Room 1. The exhibits are on display now at the library.

    NO ROUNDABOUT ON DIXON, SMsince95 is correct, this will increase traffic on Belvin. They just built new Habitat Homes right there!

    The Council seems to understand this clearly. Nice Job to all of them workshop last month and most recent council meeting, There were outstanding questions and comments/concerns raised by our elected officials.

    There are many other objections… been researching this for a month with open records requests and online workshops/articles. Be sure to speak the residents where they have installed them…not happy campers!!

    Best!! LMC
    PS for your AM humor – check out the clip from “European Vacation – Roundabout” on youtube =)

  9. Great song; not sure about it at that location.

    A couple of questions. Who will get the abandoned street? And who will get their property condemned?

    Jennifer, I thought the same thing, then took a closer look. The scale is not the same on the two examples. The proposed is a smaller scale, so the new road doesn’t run right thru the house.

  10. this is a concept that derives from development. we have had enough development. our infrastructure is not supported by the developers that build and impact our resources. then they want to contract to enable more traffic on our streets. this is a very bad idea and solution. we are running out of water. stop developing. period

  11. Winchester: Noted on the scale difference. However, I drove through their yesterday & can’t figure out where they’re going to squeeze in a road without destroying a few homes.

  12. The roundabout will provide an entrance to a slower speed limit on San Antonio. I do not think that Belvin Street will have an increase in traffic. These are used in many cities

    According to the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC): “The roundabout has emerged as one of the safest and most efficient methods of managing the transportation system, with increasing use`in the Pacific Northwest and around the United States. While roundabouts can often function well under a variety of conditions and design constraints, their design requires careful attention to design details to maximize safety and operational performance.”

    The large plan on display at the San Marcos Public Library gives a great visual for how it will work. I think that it will be attractive and functional.

  13. The 2 new roundabouts on Cheatham Street are huge, obstructive and difficult to navigate, resulting in slowing traffic. Is that really what is needed on Hopkins??

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