The Texas Department of Transportation is planning to alleviate congestion near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport by adding toll lanes on Hwy. 71 between US 183 and SH 130.

The department unveiled its plans Feb. 28 during a news conference with state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who is a proponent of the project, and with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which waived its right to be the first to develop, construct and finance the project.

“Now what we’re doing is opening up SH 130 in a way that is very meaningful,” Watson said. “People coming from the north—Waco, Georgetown—people coming from the south—Seguin—they’ll be able to get off SH 130 and go to Austin Bergstrom International Airport or on into Austin uninterrupted by traffic.”

TxDOT’s $141 million plan calls for adding two lanes of a tolled freeway from Spirit of Texas Drive and Presidential Boulevard, which is the main entrance of the airport, to east of SH 130. The nontolled frontage roads will be three lanes in each direction.

Construction is expected to start by the end of 2014 and be completed in late 2016.

The project also calls for reconstructing and realigning the intersection of Hwy. 71 and FM 973 and constructing a new bridge over SH 130. The portion of Hwy. 71 from US 183 to Spirit of Texas Drive would not include toll lanes. Adding the tolled lanes on Hwy. 71 will be subject to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board of directors amending its 2035 Regional Transportation Improvement Plan.

“I just can’t say thank you enough to CTRMA and CAMPO and [Watson] to be able to come together and deliver a project that is creating a smart jump-start on a project by at least a decade,” TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said.

Some of the funding, about $59 million, will come from toll concessions on SH 130, while $20 million will come from federal right of way funding and $60 million from TxDOT, which it will allocate at its March Texas Transportation Commission meeting.

A state law gives local toll authorities such as the Mobility Authority the first right to develop any toll project in their jurisdictions. The agency voted Feb. 27 to waive its right to finance, design and construct the project because it would have had difficulty matching TxDOT’s aggressive schedule and up-front costs, Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said. The Mobility Authority will still operate and maintain that portion of Hwy. 71 and collect the toll revenue.

Steve Pustelnyk, communications director for the Mobility Authority, further added that the agency has a lot on its plate right now to be able to take on an additional project. The Mobility Authority is also overseeing the Bergstrom Expressway project on US 183 that could add toll lanes from Hwy. 290 to Hwy. 71. That project is currently in the environmental study phase.

Watson said this next step of improving Hwy. 71 will cap off a series of projects that span more than a decade.

“As you drive out [to the airport], you can see dirt being turned already. The Riverside overpass at Hwy. 71 will soon be complete. That will provide nonstop access for travelers from the south and southwest from MoPac and I-35 all the way to the airport,” he said.


 
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