City, UT Agree to Change Red River’s Flow

One of Central Austin's main thoroughfares to be realigned and reconstructed


On the UT-Austin campus, "Red River" usually signifies incoming trash talk about the Sooner State, but of late it's pointed to a deep convo about one of central Austin's main thoroughfares. The city of Austin (a couple weeks back) and the UT System Board of Regents (on Tuesday, Feb. 26) have agreed to negotiate terms for a 20-block realignment and reconstruction of Red River Street, from 12th to 32nd streets, to accommodate the growing UT Dell Medical School and the new arena that will replace the Frank Erwin Center.

Before 1974, Red River did run through this stretch in a more-or-less straight line, but it was diverted to make room for the LBJ Lib­rary, the Erwin Center and other UT sports facilities and parking lots, and the Bracken­ridge Hospital campus. The new proposed alignment, replicating the old, would bring Red River from near St. David's Med­ical Center down what is now Medical Arts Street and then (on campus) Robert Dedman Drive, connecting at E. MLK Jr. Blvd. with the short stretch of already-realigned Red River, past Dell Med and Dell Seton Medical Cen­ter, and then through the now-shuttered Brack campus to join the Downtown segment near Waterloo Park and Waller Creek.

That southern bit was already contemplated in a handshake agreement between the city and Central Health as part of the health care district's redevelopment plan for Brack, but UT's audacious public/private design/build deal with Oak View Group to replace the Erwin Center as soon as 2022 sent ripples all the way up Red River. As it did when squeezing the medical school into the southeast corner of campus, UT plans to use that abandoned right-of-way to its fullest for building construction.

The proposed transfer of actual value from city to university, along with attendant spending on transportation planning and engineering, prompted a flurry of effort to trade the city's assets for equity in UT System-owned Lions Municipal Golf Course, which the regents would like to redevelop and the neighbors and golfers would like to stay as is through city ownership. The ongoing Save Muny campaign has stuck in the craw of local urbanists, and Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, in one of her first actions on the dais, aimed to adjust the city's negotiating posture away from a strict golf course quid pro quo. Less discussed so far is the actual impact on Austin mobility of relocating Red River to what is currently a narrower right-of-way (with restricted access to non-UT traffic through campus), especially given that the street was tagged in 2014 – and may be again in 2020 – for a rail transit line.

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