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Notes from the incurious

Thursday, 15 April, 2010

A blog I read mentioned guerrilla highway and street signage in Southern California. Caltrans is so overwhelmed, people are posting their own signage in areas where vital travelers information is conspicuously missing. I shall save my comments about how I am shocked people are capable of paying that kind of attention for another post.

Among the replies you find an Austinite:

Every road has at least three names, none of which are consistent across any set of maps I’ve ever seen. Loop 1/MoPac/Loop 1 Toll, 360/Heart of Texas, Research Blvd./183N or 183S (which actually runs east and west), Ben White/290/71, 290E/Koenig/ Northland/2222. It’s insanity.

Clearly Tex only knows the freeway exits to home, work and Wal-Mart and has never considered that roadway systems are not part of the natural landscape, but are designed, built and maintained by people. Allow me:

  • Texas Loop 1 is a limited-access highway with auxiliary local-access lanes which crosses the western portion of Travis County, mostly within the city of Austin. The tolled sections of the limited-access lanes are, stunningly, marked with the appellation “toll”. Because the majority of the road bed lies on ground formerly occupied by the defunct Missouri-Pacific Railroad it carries the nickname of that line. Indeed, the project was called the “MoPac Expressway” decades before the first inch was paved. “Mopac” is also acceptable. You may notice the active Union Pacific railroad track pairs running the entire length of the highway.
  • Texas Loop 360 is a standard ground-level highway sharing its original termini with Texas Loop 1 which has since extended into Williamson County. Loop 360 provides access to points further west. At the time of its opening, this area was largely undeveloped. The local nickname for Loop 360 is The Capital of Texas Highway. Loop 360 crosses the Colorado River by way of the iconic Pennybacker Bridge.
  • The phrase “Heart of Texas” tends to be used in and for areas north of Austin. Its use is so common in Waco, simply saying “hot” is a commonly understood shorthand.
  • United States Highway 183 initially avoided bringing traffic directly into Austin. The appellations North and South are merely local address conventions, and not Federal designations. US 183 enters Travis County on a north-south trajectory sharply turning and entering Williamson County on a east-west trajectory. These designations do not apply to the part of the road you happen to be viewing at the moment, but the overall direction of the road along its entire length. US 183 is the old road to Fort Worth.
  • The division point of North and South US 183 is U.S. 290 which would be the old road to Houston had anyone bothered to build a new one. More on 290 later.
  • North U.S. 183 has been called Research Boulevard since the 1970s. This is due to its proximity to facilities formerly operated by IBM and Texas Instruments and the University of Texas Pickle Research Center.
  • South U.S. 183 was named Ed Bluestein Boulevard through to Texas Highway 71 at the same time. Ed Bluestein was the engineer who planned Austin’s limited-access highway system from the 1950s. Few of Bluestein’s roads were actually built. (Google up “Norcross Expressway” and “Riverside Expressway”)
  • United States Highway 290 primarily provides access to Interstate 10 from Austin. At Interstate 35 the formal alignment of US 290 merges with I-35. The alignment moves to Texas 71 several miles south. Texas 71 and US 290 diverge in Oak Hill, Texas just south of Austin. This intersection is often called “the Y in Oak Hill.”
  • Texas 71 through Austin, but not Travis County outside Austin, is designated Ben White Boulevard. Ben White was the mayor of Austin under whose tenure Interstate 35 was initially completed.
  • If one does not divert to I-35 along US 290 westbound, the road continues and is formally designated Ranch-to-Market Road 2222. Locally it is known as Koenig Lane from I-35 to Burnet Road, Allendale Road from Burnet Road to Mopac and beyond that simply RM 2222. Often any point along its length is simply called “twenty-two twenty-two”
  • Northland is a neighborhood largely situated along RM 2222. No major road in Travis County, Texas has that name.
  • Why you were not confounded by Interstate 35, Inter-Regional Highway 35, IH 35 and so forth must be an oversight.

or you could spend ten fucking minutes browsing Google Maps.

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