2021 transportation news to follow in Austin: 183 South finishing soon; 183 North expansion set to award contractor and more

Work on a $743 million toll project along US 183 in East Austin is set to finish in February, while construction will start on separate projects along the northern stretch of the highway later in 2021. (Courtesy Google Maps)
Work on a $743 million toll project along US 183 in East Austin is set to finish in February, while construction will start on separate projects along the northern stretch of the highway later in 2021. (Courtesy Google Maps)

Work on a $743 million toll project along US 183 in East Austin is set to finish in February, while construction will start on separate projects along the northern stretch of the highway later in 2021. (Courtesy Google Maps)

Mike Heiligenstein, the executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, will officially step down from his position Jan. 24. The Mobility Authority's board has not yet announced a replacement for Heiligenstein, who initially announced his intentions to step aside early in 2020 but stayed on longer than expected to help the organization through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief Financial Officer Bill Chapman has taken over as interim executive director as the board conducts a search for Heiligenstein's successor. According to a news release from the Mobility Authority, the organization's board of directors has narrowed a pool of candidates down to a handful. The board is next scheduled to meet Jan. 27 at 9 a.m.

Heiligenstein, who has led the Mobility Authority since it became operational in 2003, leaves at a busy time for Austin transportation as the Mobility Authority enters 2021 with a number of road projects in various stages of development.

183 South

During its four-plus years of construction, this $743 million project to add three tolled express lanes in each direction along US 183 in East Austin between Toll 290 and SH 71 was the largest project in the region. It began in 2016, and Heiligenstein said in an interview with Community Impact Newspaper it is set to fully finish next month.

"It's being buttoned up as we speak. We're probably looking at mid-February," he said.



In addition to the toll lanes, the project included improvements to nontolled roads along US 183 and $25 million for bicycle and pedestrian paths, sidewalks and cross-street connections. The first phase of the project, which included toll lanes between Toll 290 and Techni Center Drive, opened in 2019. Heiligenstein said over the course of more than four years, it was a relatively smooth project despite the significant challenge of building lanes over the river.

"Crossing the Colorado River is not a simple thing. This is a brand-new, 12-lane bridge across the Colorado. We essentially tore down the old bridges that crossed the Colorado to replace them," he said.

US 290/SH 130 flyovers

While some weather delays have pushed the opening of 183 South back a few days, this project to build three flyovers at the intersection of 290 Toll and SH 130 is ahead of schedule, meaning, Heiligenstein said, the two projects are set to open nearly simultaneously in February.

The first flyover in this $127 million project opened early in 2020 after construction began in 2018. The project began as a response to traffic congestion in the area, particularly during the morning rush hour traveling south on SH 130 and traveling west onto Toll 290.

"We quickly saw that was a problem, and that's how that germinated. That project was a result of what we saw in terms of congestion," Heiligenstein said.

183 North, 183A Phase III

Both these projects include adding two tolled lanes to sections of US 183 are set to begin construction in 2021.

Heiligenstein said he expects the board of directors to select a contractor for the estimated $650 million 183 North project at its January meeting, setting up construction sometime around the third quarter of the year.

The roughly $260 million 183A Phase III project, meanwhile, awarded a contract in the fall to Lane Construction Corp. and is expected to begin roadwork in the summer.

The two projects are separated by about 12 miles. The 183 North project's bounds are SH 45 and MoPac, while the 183A Phase III will stretch through Williamson County from Leander to Liberty Hill. Heiligenstein said he does not expect many total lane closures throughout the duration of multiyear work on the two projects, and the distance between the two is great enough that traffic should not be hindered much on 183A in between the construction areas.

MoPac South

Finally, a long-delayed project along MoPac from downtown Austin to Slaughter Lane is set to move forward this year, although it is not yet at the point of beginning construction, Heiligenstein said.

The MoPac South project was on an indefinite hold from 2016-19 due to a lawsuit that attempted to stall the project and a moratorium on toll projects statewide. The Mobility Authority won the lawsuit in 2018, and toll projects, including those along US 183, slowly began to resume over the course of 2019.

The MoPac project, estimated to cost between $435 million and $540 million as of 2019, is still in the early stages. After another pause in activity due to COVID-19, Heiligenstein said the Mobility Authority expects to schedule public input meetings around the middle of 2021 before it finalizes an environmental study for the project area. The project could add one or two tolled lanes to the roadway in the area.