Improvements could increase mobility, safety
Construction began in February on northbound frontage roads and ramps from Westinghouse Road to Hwy. 29 that are expected to increase mobility and safety in the area.
"In Georgetown, we have discontinuous frontage roads through town," said Mark Jones, Texas Department of Transportation area engineer. "Closing the gap on the northbound frontage road is the big picture. What that does is complete that frontage road system in that area."
The project, which could take about 1 1/2 years to complete, will add a northbound two-lane frontage road between Hwy. 29 and just south of S.E. Inner Loop—including a bridge structure—auxiliary lanes on the frontage road and main lanes of I-35, and a turnaround bridge north of Leander Road/FM 2243. The project will also remove and replace northbound ramps and add sidewalks from S.E. Inner Loop to Westinghouse Road.
"This project is part of an overall transportation plan that we are dealing with in that southern region of Georgetown," said Valerie Covey, Williamson County Precinct 3 commissioner.
TxDOT estimates that within 20 years, nearly 30,000 cars a day will travel the new frontage road system.
Safety and mobility
The new frontage road lanes are expected to help TxDOT and other agencies handle incidents that happen on I-35 and offer a way to direct traffic off the interstate if the road needs to be shut down, Jones said.
"We will be able to have that ability to do so with frontage roads, and right now we don't have that ability," Jones said, adding that in the current configuration if traffic was rerouted off I-35, the only option for northbound travelers is to take Austin Avenue through downtown.
"It's pretty obvious, especially when the interstate shuts down—our office is right here on Austin Avenue—the whole interstate is right on Austin Avenue," Jones said. "It's going to improve some of the congestion and mobility through town, we suspect."
The project will also reconfigure the Leander Road and S.E. Inner Loop intersections.
"Right now if you're on Inner Loop, you can't get on I-35 to go north directly," Covey said.
She said the project will also add a secondary entrance to St. David's Georgetown Hospital, which can now only be reached from Scenic Drive.
"One good reason [for the frontage roads] is the connectivity with the hospital," she said.
Covey said having access to the hospital would allow for quicker response times for emergency vehicles.
"In a true medical emergency, especially in the case of a patient with chest pain or having a stroke, every second counts," said Hugh Brown, St. David's Georgetown Hospital CEO. "By providing more direct access to the hospital from I-35, this new frontage road will save lives."
The frontage roads could also lead to development of land near the hospital, Jones said.
"[The project] is also going to potentially allow some economic development or access management for the hospital and other tracts that might develop someday," he said. "We are going to reconfigure some existing ramps there, and that's going to have the ability to assist in economic development along that corridor."
The realignment of existing ramps could have a positive impact on the area for land and business owners, Georgetown Economic Development Director Mark Thomas said.
"The orientation of the entrance and exit ramps can have a huge impact on [future businesses], especially retail," he said.
Omni Projects partner Bruce Barton, who is developing property known as Longhorn Junction at S.E. Inner Loop and I-35, said realigning the exit ramp to be closer to Inner Loop and Blue Springs Road was important to getting new business in Georgetown.
"It will add to the development of that area where the exit is exiting to Inner Loop and Blue Springs, which ties into the present and future businesses," Barton said. "Additionally there will be new access to the interstate, which is extremely important to that area."
The $18.69 million project is funded with Williamson County road bonds and a pass-through financing agreement with TxDOT, Covey said.
With the pass-through agreement, TxDOT will pay back a portion of the construction costs after the project has been completed and the road is being used, Jones said.
The total TxDOT will pay to the county will be calculated over time based on the number of vehicles using the roadway, he said.
"We're happy to get this going and be working with the county. Whatever we can do to improve safety and reduce congestion is a good thing," Jones said.