Safety barriers, workers and piles of dirt are visible alongside the two paved lanes of South Congress Avenue from Eberhart Lane to Foremost Drive, which has been the site of a Texas Department of Transportation project for the past year.
Roadwork started in October 2014, and TxDOT expects to finish by spring 2016 with weather permitting, though work was originally slated to be done by fall 2015, TxDOT Public Information Officer Kelli Reyna said.
TxDOT’s plans include widening that portion of the road to include five lanes and upgraded drainage facilities as well as adding new sidewalks along the west side of Congress and in a few places where there are gaps in sidewalks on the east side of the road, said Michelle Romage-Chambers, assistant area engineer, South Travis County/Hays area office. TxDOT is also adding five-foot bike lanes as part of the project from Eberhart Lane to Foremost Drive.
“We’ve run into a few utility issues. … When we encounter one we go back to the designer and tell them we need to redesign,” she said.
Anabelia Berglie, manager and owner of Texas Nails & Music at 6501 S. Congress Ave., said there was no roadwork happening when she signed her lease in 2014. Since the business opened in September she said dirt has been turning, and in some cases both entrances to the shopping center where her business sits have been blocked.
“I’ve had quite a few customers with feedback saying they’ve had a hard time getting in,” she said. “I really think people are staying away from the area. You should see it during rush hour. … Once it’s done it’s going to be like, ‘This is done; this is fabulous.’ Unfortunately in the meantime, it’s not good for new business.”
Specifically, issues causing delays include conflicts with gas, water, wastewater and telecommunications lines, some of which were not documented on an initial planning survey, Reyna said.
“There have been some delays, and we’re working as hard as possible to try to get through those,” Reyna said. “If we can get through these utility delays we’ll be able to hit the ground running and hopefully make up for some lost time.”
TxDOT is occasionally at the mercy of utility companies, Reyna said.
“Sometimes you can design around them, but sometimes there is nothing you can do,” Romage-Chambers said. “I think we’re pretty close to having most of the utility issues worked out. … We have accommodated some of them by redesigning the drainage lines.”
Christie White is co-owner of local business Billie Jean’s Burger Pub, which opened a restaurant at 6501 S. Congress Ave. in May. She said the roadwork has created a barrier for customers.
“A lot of people think we are under construction because of the construction,” she said. “It is definitely hindering our business.”
There are few streetlights in the area, so visibility at night is low, she said.
“I’ve had people say, ‘I almost turned into the ditch because I was trying to find your driveway,’” she said.
For Henry Kalisky, general manager of yogurt shop Yo So Cool LLC, which aims to open on South Congress by December, the construction is nothing but positive.
“It probably might be a little painful to the people who live there now or who are doing business there now, but [the changes will increase traffic],” he said.
Some of the reasons Kalisky and his wife chose South Congress for their newest location are visibility and traffic; widening the lanes will enable more cars to flow through the intersections easily, he said.
“I think if there is a turn lane it would benefit the business,” he said.
Project history, development
The project on South Congress, also known as Loop 275, was included in TxDOT’s FY 2013-16 Transportation Improvement Program, or TIP, a short-term plan outlining how to distribute funding. Once approved by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and Federal Highway Administration, those projects were included in the statewide TIP. The project was approved to move forward in April 2012, Reyna said. After the environmental study process, the South Congress project was cleared for construction in March 2014 and opened up to contractors for bids in June 2014.
The area is going through a redevelopment, said Jennifer Wehmeyer, Meritage Homes division sales manager. Meritage Homes’ project, Highmark townhomes, consisting of 50 units located at the intersection of Dittmar Road and South Congress, is projected to open in spring 2016. Meritage considered the roadwork while choosing the site, she said.
“Accounting for increased traffic flow with all the growth along South Congress [will be] … good for our homeowners,” she said.
In 2018 the area is slated to become home to the Saint Elmo project, including residential space and a relocated Saxon Pub. Other nearby projects include JPI’s Sur512 by Jefferson, a 352-unit apartment complex slated to open in January.
Traffic is expected to increase by more than 10,000 vehicles per day by 2032, and there is foot traffic because of bus stops along the road, Romage-Chambers said.
Once the project is completed, mobility should be improved for all users, Romage-Chambers said.
Updated Dec. 2 at 4:55 p.m. to reflect that the project will also include bicycle lanes, according to TxDOT.