$8 Billion I-35 Expansion Plan Could Include Self-Driving Vehicle Lanes

A massive plan to expand I-35 from San Antonio to north of Austin now in the planning stages by San Antonio and Austin transportation planners would expand the overwhelmed traffic artery by four additional lanes, and may include a first for American transportation, News Radio 1200 WOAI news has learned.

"With the advent of autonomous technology, we are actually looking at designating two of those lanes as the first 100% autonomous lanes," Kevin Wolff, Chair of the Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization, told News Radio 1200 WOAI in an interview.

Wolff says he and the Captial Area Metropolitan Planning Organization in Austin are working on the plan, which wouldn't be cheap.

"There is a plan of expanding I-35 by four lanes for 120 miles between Austin and San Antonio," Wolff said.  "You are looking at about an eight billion dollar project."

He says considering the length of time that it would take to get the project finished, it makes sense to consider future technology as part of it.

He says most planners expect that autonomous vehicles will begin emerging in the coming decade, and will probably involve trucks and commercial vehicles first, with self-driving cars coming later.

Wolff says since several attempts to build passenger rail transportation between San Antonio and Austin have failed, and no plan is now in the works, having designated autonomous vehicle lanes makes sense.

"If you can make it 100% autonomous, what that really helps with is freight and mass transportation, which is exactly what you would be looking at with rail."

But he says laying new rail tracks between San Antonio and Austin would cost an estimated $80 to $100 million a mile, and expanding I-35 would be far less expensive.

Wolff says two of the lanes could be constructed with autonomous technology in mind, and if the advancements have not arrived the lanes would simply be used as standard driving lanes until the technology is perfected.  But he says, most planners think in ten years, which is a good timeline for the expansion project, some sort of self driving technology will be in place.

"People care when machines run into people," he said.  "People don't care so much when machines run into other machines.  So if you take out the human element and have a 100% autonomous piece, the technology is, for all intents and purposes, here."

What is not 'here' is a plan on how to pay for the $8 billion project. Wolff says nothing has been ruled out at this early stage in the project, and tolls are a possibility.

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