Austin isn't just Texas's capital city. It's also home to attractions that include the University of Texas's sprawling campus, the Longhorns' stadiums, and a vibrant music scene. In addition to government offices and services related to state government, the city of Austin is home to many firms related to both technology and energy. The city is serviced by a few major highways and smaller surface roads. People moving to Austin will find that learning the major roads and alternative routes can make the city easier to navigate and more inviting. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about driving in Austin.
Get to Know Your Major Roads in Austin
Interstate 35 is the major north-south road that runs through Austin and connects it with the Dallas-Forth Worth and San Antonio metro areas. This six-lane road handles considerable amounts of the area's traffic.
U.S. 183 includes several local roads, such as Research Boulevard, Bastrop Highway, and Ed Bluestein Boulevard. This 33-mile road runs from Caldwell County to Williamson County.
Some loop roads make it easier to navigate the area. Loop 1, known as MoPac to the locals, provides access to the city's west side. Loop 360 is a scenic highway that passes through West Austin's hills. Loop 275 is located in the southern part of the city. Loop 343 starts by the southern terminus of Loop 360 and then proceeds north along Lamar Boulevard toward downtown. State Highway 45 makes a complete loop around the city of Austin and is around 80 miles long.
Several roads in Austin are toll roads maintained by the Central Texas Turnpike System. A few include Loop 1, State Highway 45, and State Highway 130. Tolls can be paid either through electronic tags, by mail, or online.
What to Expect During Rush Hour in Austin
Rush hour traffic in Austin typically occurs from Monday through Friday. The first signs of the rush hour can usually be seen on I-35 by 6:30 a.m. The span of I-35 that goes from North Loop through downtown is usually the most heavily congested. The traffic around town gets thickest between 7 a.m. and hits its peak by 8 a.m.
Traffic begins to get more intense around 3 p.m., reaching its peak around 5 p.m.
Traffic patterns tend to change throughout the week in Austin. Afternoon traffic is heaviest between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Mondays but gets a bit earlier throughout the week. Some locals suggest that there is a noticeable rush around noon on Fridays as some locals decide to get an early start on the weekend, and tourists arrive for a vacation weekend.
Make sure to add enough travel time if you have to be out on the road during rush hour. In the mornings, add 12 minutes of cushioning for every 30 minutes spent on the road. When traffic is heavier, plan on an extra 19 minutes for every 30 minutes of travel time in the evenings. Rain, sleet, accidents, and construction can all add significant time to a commute. Timing daily commutes with traffic patterns can make it easy to get to the Downtown Austin neighborhood from just about any area of the city.
Where to Find Parking in Austin
Austin is a vibrant and bustling city with events nearly every day of the week. This can make parking difficult. But, learning a few tips and tricks for parking can help Austin residents be sure of finding a spot.
Austin has many parking lots and garages downtown. The Downtown Austin Alliance maintains a parking map that can make it easier to find a spot.
Metered parking is in effect in downtown Austin:
- Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to midnight
- Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight
In some parking garages in the city, parking is free for the first two hours, then charged hourly after. Parking is free at metered spots on Sundays throughout the city.
Think twice before parking a car in the yard at a single-family home in Austin, as many of the neighborhoods near the South Congress neighborhood and Downtown Austin require local permits for street parking.
Many parking garages do not allow overnight parking. However, overnight parking passes can be purchased for many metered street parking spots. People who leave their car downtown after a night out can sometimes have these fees waived if they provide Proof of Responsible Driving. This is a time-stamped bus or taxi receipt that shows the driver chose alternate transportation.
Other Helpful Things to Know About Driving in Austin
Like any city, Austin has its own unique customs and rules. Understanding these rules can help you ensure you are staying safe and obeying local traffic laws. For example, Austin law requires a one-lane buffer between moving cars and law enforcement or TXDOT vehicles. Violators face fines up to $2,000.
Cell phones are forbidden while driving in Austin, and the law is strictly enforced in school zones. This includes school parking lots and drop-off lanes. While driving in an Austin school zone, it is also illegal to pass a school bus when its stop signs and flashing lights are active. First-time offenders can face fines between $500 and $1,250.
All vehicles in Texas must display both front and back license plates. Construction can sometimes slow traffic down. The Austin Police and TxDOT accounts provide information for drivers.
Ready to Get on the Road in Austin?
Driving in and around Austin may take a few days to get used to. Many local roads have undergone many name changes, making it hard to tell which road is which. Compared to other major U.S. cities, the cost of living in Austin is relatively low, which has increased the population quickly and increased traffic. But, over time, drivers learn the area's quirks and find that they have a much easier time getting around.