Pflugerville Mayor Pro Tem Victor Gonzales remembers when the east side of the city was nothing but empty fields and shopping options were slim.
"I know my grandmother used to shop in Austin. If you needed to see a doctor, you had to go to Austin," he said.
But now the east side of Plugerville is one of the city's fastest-growing sections, an expansion that is largely due to Toll 130 and Toll 45, Gonzales said.
"The construction [of the tollways] created that synergy to bring businesses to Pflugerville, and more importantly, bring that traffic to Pflugerville—because we had people from all around coming to shop in Pflugerville: Hutto, Manor, Taylor, Elgin. It became more of a regional type of destination for business," he said.
Driving north on Toll 130 through Pflugerville, development is evident in the booming retail Stone Hill Town Center. As soon as February, drivers might also see roadway construction near Kelly Lane as the city aims to ease traffic congestion and attract retail business.
Pflugerville is not the only city growing along the tollway. Farther north, near Hutto and past Hwy. 79, drivers can view the beginnings of commercial development—pipes for water and wastewater lines and the land that has been set aside for the campus of the East Williamson County Higher Education Center that will come to be in 2013.
By the time drivers reach University Boulevard, the scenery has once again reverted to open fields, but Round Rock Planning Director Peter Wysocki said he does envision growth near the tollway—just not for several decades. He expects the city to continue growing on east University Boulevard first.
Three cities, one road
Since opening in September 2007, the section of Toll 130 between Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 71 has attracted businesses looking for close proximity to airports, high-traffic areas and retail growth spots.
"We're 20 minutes from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The Austin Executive Airport is visible from Pecan Street. It's kind of been one of the driving forces for a lot of the economic development that's going to happen. The toll  will be kind of the main artery," Gonzales said.
Some of the businesses to take advantage of the toll's connectivity most recently are St. David's Emergency Center and Shogun Japanese Restaurant, which was the first business officially signed on to a planned "restaurant row" in Stone Hill Town Center.
According to Ken Yung, manager at Shogun Japanese Restaurant—a sister restaurant in Pearland, Texas—Toll 130 was a major reason for the site's selection.
"NewQuest invited us over there, and we looked at the area and we liked it. We like the traffic the toll  is going to bring and the clientele. It will be inside a good shopping area," Yung said.
A major residential project is also in the works at Stone Hill Town Center, where developers plan to build The Mansions at Stone Hill, a 370-unit apartment complex. According to Trey Fletcher, Pflugerville's planning director, a plan has been submitted for review and approval by the city.
Hutto city officials also view the accessibility offered by Toll 130 as a catalyst for growth. Interim City Manager David Mitchell said the area east of Toll 130 is where Hutto is likely to see its most rapid expansion during the next 10 years.
On the opposite side of the toll, farther north, Round Rock retail and residential development is continuing to grow west of CR 110 on University Boulevard where fast-food restaurants, retail shops and a 54,000-square-foot Ikea expansion have kept University Boulevard at the forefront of the city's economic growth.
While Wysocki has said it may take several decades for development to reach Toll 130, he did say that if a major commercial developer were interested in building in north Round Rock, it would likely consider an area along the tollway.
Preparing for the future
In recent years, cities along Toll 130 have spent a good deal of time, energy and money preparing the region for anticipated growth.
Hutto, for one, has made several moves to improve the area's infrastructure, including installing a water line along CR 108—which Mitchell expects to be finished early in 2012—and a wastewater line that should be finished in the latter part of the year to serve the vacant lots, Mitchell said.
"With us putting water and wastewater out into these areas, that was the missing piece for these lots—what we call plug-and-play lots—where somebody can come in, build a structure, tap into major infrastructure and be ready to roll," he said.
The first major project to break ground in the area will be the Hutto campus of the East Williamson County Higher Education Center, scheduled to open in spring 2013. Mitchell and Scott Martinez, Hutto Economic Development Corp. executive director, said they expect primarily commercial development to occur near the college.
"We hope it is job generators," Martinez said. "Single-family [residential development] is doing fine here. We need more commercial and light industrial. That will help our daytime employment."
The Pflugerville Community Development Corp. has made similar preparations, dipping into commercial development with the opening of the Renewable Energy Park and electric-car charging station near Toll 130 on Dec. 30, land they hope will eventually attract green energy businesses.
"Once that renewable energy park gets anchored with two or three business campuses, we're going to see more restaurants out there, hopefully. Ultimately, we see a hotel out there, too," Gonzales said.
The city has also partnered with Newland Communities—the developers of the Falcon Pointe subdivision—to build Colorado Sands Boulevard, a road that could connect Kelly Lane to Pflugerville Parkway east of Toll 130. The north-south roadway will likely attract commercial and retail businesses that desire a highly trafficked location, said Floyd Akers, executive director of PCDC.
The roadway is part of a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, where a portion of the collected property tax is used for infrastructure projects.
According to a TIRZ schedule Newland Communities Senior Project Manager Rainer Ficken sent to Fletcher, construction of Colorado Sands Boulevard is scheduled from Feb. 14 through March 2.
"We're just waiting on a final reimbursement agreement between the TIRZ board of directors, the city and Newland. Once that is completed, I see us going into full design of the roadways," Ficken said.
The TIRZ also includes an allocation of $4.5 million for land that could be given as an incentive to a company looking to locate alongside Toll 130. Officials hope it could attract a large firm.
The City of Hutto is also ensuring its road network will be sufficient to handle future development. Some of the properties north of Hwy. 79 and east of Toll 130 are in the City of Hutto's extraterritorial jurisdiction—land adjacent to a city that is not actually in city limits—so the city is considering annexing the area into city limits early this year, Mitchell said, which would allow the city to control development in the area.
"It is the face of Hutto as you come along 130, and we want it to be a positive thing for people coming through," Mitchell said.