By Marie Albiges
A new report analyzing the state of the Rainey neighborhood’s roads shows three to four times as many cars could be congesting the streets if all the anticipated development comes to fruition.
The report, titled The Rainey Neighborhood Mobility Study & Plan, shows that based on how the city of Austin calculates peak-hour vehicle trips, as much as $13.4 million could be collected from developers for transportation improvements.
That includes projects currently under construction or with approved site plans: The Fairmont Austin, Homewood Suites, Waller Park Place, Hotel Rainey and 70 Rainey. These developers have not been required to provide any money for transportation improvements, according to Dan Hennessey, an engineer with Big Red Dog, the firm hired to produce the report.
Removing those developments from the list, Big Red Dog predicts up to $9.3 million could be collected from developers in the future for traffic improvements.
Hennessey said the Austin Transportation Department can request transportation mitigation funds from developers for every peak vehicle trip that a development produces.
Based on the city’s existing formula that would require $3,400 per peak vehicle trip, ATD could ask for $9.3 million from the developments, he said.
The city of Austin is currently reviewing the way it calculates a development’s impact on transportation through a Street Impact Fee Program study. The Street Impact Fee would be a one-time charge to developers when issuing building permits, and that money would be used for specific capital improvements projects related to adding capacity, or for planning, surveying, engineering, land acquisition and construction.
The study measured several Rainey-area roadways and intersections on Thursday mornings from 7-9 a.m., Thursday afternoons from 4-6 p.m. and Saturday nights from 9:30 p.m.-2:30 a.m.
The study found although peak-hour congestion occurred along the I-35 frontage road and Cesar Chavez Street, that wasn’t the cause of congestion inside the neighborhood.
Instead, the congestion inside the neighborhood is caused by the more-than-6,000 pedestrians crossing the Rainey/Davis intersection in a five-hour span on Saturday nights, and by the cars dropping off and picking passengers up in the travel lanes.
Nearly a dozen projects are either under construction, planned for development or announced for development, according to the report.
Developers are taking advantage of the 2004 rezoning from single-family residential to Central Business District in the Rainey neighborhood.
Three projects are currently under construction: The Fairmont Austin, a 1048-room hotel on Cesar Chavez slated for completion in August; Homewood Suites, a 150-room hotel on East Avenue; and 70 Rainey, a luxury, high-rise condominium complex consisting of 164 residences.
The report said developer The Sutton Co. is also planning to build about 3.5 million square feet of condos, apartments, office, retail and parking in the next 3-6 years in the Rainey neighborhood.
The planned development that initially sparked the traffic study is The Villas, a set of 66 condos located at 80 Red River St. that The Sutton Co. is under contract to buy, according to the report.
The report said The Sutton Co. plans to demolish the existing buildings and build about 1.1 million square feet of commercial and residential development in its place.
The report also mentioned the proposed Austin Convention Center expansion and the South Central Waterfront Initiative as projects that could add as much as 12.5 million square feet of newly developed space next to Rainey.
Site plans have also been filed for the following:
- 48 East Ave.—a 31-story, 246-unit residential tower with 11,250 feet of retail
- Cambria Hotel, 68 East Ave.—A 12-to-15-story hotel
- East Avenue Apartments, 16 East Ave.—A 32-story tower with 226 units
Several other Rainey-area properties are also ripe for development, although no developer has announced plans for any of these sites:
- 91 Red River St.—owned by Endeavor, currently occupied by a small house and surface parking lot
- 93 Red River St.—owned by Endeavor, currently occupied by a small warehouse and surface parking lot
- 707 E. Cesar Chavez St.—owned by World Class Capital Group, currently occupied by IHOP
- 76 East Ave.—owned by Endeavor Capital LLC, currently undeveloped
- 50-56 East Ave.—owned by WC 56 East Avenue LLC, currently occupied by the Travis County Psychiatric Emergency Services
- 74-78 Rainey St.—to be developed by Sackman Enterprises, currently occupied by food trucks and the Sackman Enterprises offices
Mexican-American Cultural Center
Since completion of the first phase of construction in 2007, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center—known to locals at the MACC—has quickly become surrounded by high-rise condos, hotels, restaurants and bars.
Now, the MACC is looking to develop a new vision and master plan. The public input process kicks off June 17 and goes through April 2018, and feedback is sought on everything from the expansion of existing buildings to the construction of new facilities, updates on parking and landscaping as well as new programming.
An online survey is currently open to collect public input.
The MACC also owns 58 and 64 Rainey Street and will become dedicated parkland once 64 Rainey—which is currently being used as a staging area for the new 70 Rainey condos—is finished using the space.
The report recommends first extending Rainey Street from Driskill Street to Cesar Chavez Street, which would give people another entryway into the neighborhood. This street extension would likely run through The Sutton’s Company’s future development.
Second, it suggests completing the pedestrian network along all roads in the neighborhood, something that could cost at least $750,000 and take more than five years to complete, the report said.
If Rainey Street gets extended to Sabine Street, Big Red Dog estimates another $400,000 and one to two years of construction would be needed to add sidewalks and pedestrian crossings to the new street section.
Third, it suggests prohibiting parking along Rainey Street’s 23 spaces after 8 p.m. and turning the spaces into passenger loading areas for ride-hailing vehicles and taxis.
Other suggestions for improving mobility include providing wayfinding signage for parking—which the report writers estimate could cost between $50,000 and $500,000; adding bicycle parking and a third Austin B-Cycle bicycle ride-sharing station, perhaps at the MACC; and installing traffic-calming devices, such as speed humps on Red River, Driskill, Rainey and Davis streets.
Other changes to open neighborhood access could include extending Red River through the MACC property, extending Davis Street across Waller Creek—something the Waller Creek Conservancy voiced concerns about because of environmental impacts—and connecting the neighborhood south across Lady Bird Lake.
“The big hope now is that the city does their end of the bargain and actually pushes some of the recommendations that are inside that report.”
—Landon Turner, general manager for The Shore Condos
Landon Turner, a member of the steering committee behind the report and general manager for The Shore Condos in Rainey, said the neighborhood has been asking Austin officials for this kind of report for a long time.
“The big hope now is that the city does their end of the bargain and actually pushes some of the recommendations that are inside that report,” he said. “I think the ball is completely in their court.”
Turner said he hopes the report will be a “living, breathing document” city officials turn to when considering approving future developments in the Rainey area.
“[The report] should make it easy for the city to see the whole neighborhood is behind it and is behind wanting the city to be involved,” he said.