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Driving in Austin, Texas

Updated on May 4, 2017

The Beast Called Austin Traffic

Everything really is bigger in Texas and being the 11th-largest city in the country only goes to prove how big this city is really becoming. With the ever-growing population comes even bigger traffic problems.

Austin may be famous for music, good food, and fantastic neighborhoods to call home, but it is increasingly becoming known as one of the state's worst traffic areas. There are four major highways that will keep you from getting lost on any given day, but rest assured you'll be sitting in traffic while attempting to find them.

Austin's Major Highways

The four major highways of Austin will help you get to all of that and more; Interstate 35, Mopac, Highway 183, and Highway 290 create four sides to a square surrounding Austin and as long as you’re on one you’ll always find your way around. Over the last few years Austin has added toll roads, 183A and 45, to make commuting to various areas of the city easier and to help alleviate the heavy traffic congestion that comes with exponential growth.

If you are trying to get anywhere quickly, avoiding the main Austin highway (IH-35) is going to be imperative most of the time. Knowing where all of the main highways in Austin are will help you in also knowing how to avoid them.



The main highway in Texas is Interstate 35 or I-35 that opened in the state in 1959. This highway runs north to south, through Downtown Austin.

Beginning at the southern Texas border in Laredo and heading to north Texas at Gainesville, where it then enters Oklahoma; Interstate 35 in Texas will ensure you are never lost as long as you know where the highway is on the map.

I-35 in Austin is called the Interregional Highway. This is important to know since many of Austin’s main highways are multi-named. For example, in North Austin you will find that Highway 183 is also known as Research Blvd. In South Austin, Highway 290 is also known as Ben White Blvd.

Driving along the Austin portion of the Interstate 35 in Texas, you will find that most of highway has six to eight lanes. When you reach Williamson County, the lanes drop to four lanes once you reach Round Rock up to Jarrell.

The section of Interstate 35 in Texas, running between San Antonio and Austin, is considered the most congested stretch of highway in the area. For many years, solutions have been offered to alleviate the traffic problems in hopes of making commutes less of a hassle but with the population growing so quickly, it appears there will be more suggestions needed. In the meantime, know the best times of day to travel.

There are certain times of day that you can count on I-35 to be congested with rush hour traffic. Those are the times you want to stay off the highway if you can avoid it. Otherwise, get to know the local radio stations when in Austin on business because you’ll have enough time to memorize every song.

Between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. traffic heading into Downtown Austin is pretty backed up heading south. This is the time everyone is heading into work. During lunch time traffic downtown can get pretty hectic. At the end of the work day, around 5 p.m. you will find that I-35 is slow moving heading north.

In the downtown area, Interstate 35 in Texas splits into an upper deck and a lower deck, between Martin Luther King and Airport Boulevard area. The idea was to open up more lanes for downtown traffic but as anyone here knows, that’s the portion of I-35 that you want to avoid during rush hour.


Mopac (The Loop)

Mopac is the other main highway in Austin that runs north to south perpendicular to I-35 and is often referred to as The Loop. There are many roads that will connect you to I-35 from Mopac.

The main roads that will help to avoid the Austin highway in Austin are Parmer Lane, Highway 183, Highway 290 North, 38th Street, Riverside, Highway 290 South and William Cannon.

Highway 290

Highway 290 can get a little confusing if you don’t realize there are a Highway 290 in South Austin as well as a Highway 290 in North Austin. When venturing south you may hear Highway 290 also referred to Highway 71 or W Ben White Blvd. Highway 290 in North Austin turns in to Highway 69 on the west side of I-35.

Highway 290 north intersects with Highway 183 on the east side of I-35 but both highways continue in their own direction.

Highway 183

Highway 183 heads all the way to Lockhart but on the west side of I-35 becomes Research Blvd at some points. Pay attention to the signs when traveling Highway 183 because you can end up on a toll road without ever realizing it.

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Austin Toll Roads

The most popular method to avoiding the Austin IH-35 and Mopac highway(s) is the surrounding toll road additions introduced to the city in the early 2000’s. The toll road connects you from South Austin at the airport up to Georgetown, Pflugerville, Hutto, and various areas surrounding Austin.

Getting around Austin has never been easier thanks to Austin toll roads but do expect to pay a hefty fee for the added benefit and luxury of convenience.

It is common knowledge that I-35 and Mopac can be congested at any given time of day so knowing the toll road exits will help ensure you are running late thanks to traffic.

  • SH 45 Southeast is located in south Austin between South IH-35 and Highway 183 South. SH 45 SE becomes SH 130 South as it crosses over Highway 183.
  • SH 130 South makes getting to the airport from the south areas easier with this Austin toll roads portion.
  • SH 130 Central picks up from SH 130 South once you cross over Highway 71. This portion of the Austin toll roads continues north over Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Highway 290. From here until you reach the southern section of Round Rock is now called SH 130.
  • The SH 130 toll road stretches to the very north part of Georgetown, getting you around Pflugerville and Round Rock traffic congestion.
  • For the sake of directions however you should know that the Austin toll road becomes SH 130 North at Highway 79 in Round Rock until you reach IH-35 in Georgetown.
  • Just past Pflugerville you are able to jump onto SH 45 to get to Loop 1 and to get over Highway 183 rush hour traffic. You will come out on SH 45 and 183A in the Cedar Park area of northwest Austin.

Beginning in 2013, you no longer have to stop and pay when using the Austin toll road. There are cameras at every booth that will take a picture of the license plate, you will be looked up and a bill will be mailed to you. There are portions of the road that you pay for even if you don't use the entire stretch of toll road so be sure to pay attention to your toll bill.

Map to the Major Austin Highways


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    • sydneyspence profile image

      Sydney Spence 16 months ago from Austin Texas

      I'm so glad!

    • sydneyspence profile image

      Sydney Spence 16 months ago from Austin Texas

      Ours are called a TxTag. We place a sticker in our windshield and it deducts whatever is in our account. I try to avoid them. I don't agree with paying for roads that are so desperately needed here. Thank you for reading!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 17 months ago from Central Florida

      I've never been to Austin, but if I ever do go, I'll take this guide with me. Here in Central Florida there are so many toll roads (and I avoid them all). We have what's called SunPass here. You add funds to it online and place the transponder in your car. As you go through the toll booths, the transponder is read and the tolls are deducted. I don't have one, but I know many who travel a lot count on them.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 17 months ago from USA

      I've had the pleasure of visiting Austin on business and it unnerved me to drive in the traffic (although I've driven in DC traffic and other city traffic and hated that too!). In those days, there was no Google maps, just a paper map or a printout of online directions and getting around was confusing. I usually didn't venture too far from my hotel or required destinations for fear of getting lost. However, I'd love to go back for a visit, so your hub interested me.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I've never been to Texas, period, so no to Austin. I do have a customer who I do freelance writing for and her business is in Austin, so there's that connection. :) Anyway, I hope you're having a great day, and thank you for the birthday wishes.