US 183 North toll project in Northwest Austin receives OK for construction, will start in late 2020

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has proposed to add toll lanes to US 183 in Northwest Austin.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has proposed to add toll lanes to US 183 in Northwest Austin.

Image description
US 183 North project
Image description
US 183 North project
After progress stalled for a year and a half on the US 183 North toll project, planning is back underway with construction slated to begin in late 2020.

The $504 million project will add two toll lanes—often called managed or express lanes—to US 183 in each
direction that will connect to Toll 183A in Cedar Park near RM 620 and MoPac. It will also add a fourth continuous nontolled lane and maintain three frontage roads in each direction.

“The best form of mobility for this corridor to provide reliability is managed lanes,” said Mike Heiligenstein,
executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which is overseeing the project. “That helps us regulate and manage the flows both into Austin and back out.”

In April, the Mobility Authority will start the procurement process for a contractor to complete the design of the project and build it. Procurement will take about a year to complete, Heiligenstein said. The new lanes are slated to open to traffic in early 2025.

Project aspects


The new toll lanes will operate similar to the MoPac express lanes in that the price of the toll will increase
or decrease as traffic and demand increases and decreases. Buses will operate on the lanes for free.

Jimmy Flannigan, Austin City Council member for District 6, where most of the project is located, supports the project, mainly for the access it offers to transit. He said he also supports the addition of managed lanes instead of free lanes.

“Just adding more lanes does not make traffic better,” he said. “You can look at the Katy Freeway [in Houston] as the most egregious example: widest freeway in America, worse traffic than before they built it. The real solution to traffic problems is options, not forcing everybody to use a bigger version of the same option.”

Pedestrian and bicycle improvements are also planned, including new sidewalks, bicycle lanes on cross streets and a shared-use path connecting Jollyville and Pond Springs roads.

Stalled progress


Progress on the project took a hit in October 2017 when Gov. Greg Abbott announced funds from voter-approved propositions 1 and 7 could not be used on projects with tolled elements. The Texas Transportation Commission—the governing board for the Texas Department of Transportation—had just approved a $500 million agreement with the agency that month.

The governor’s announcement halted many toll projects statewide, including TxDOT’s plan to fund the fourth continuous nontolled lane using propositions 1 and 7 funds.

In 2018, Heiligenstein said discussions at the state level revolved around how to fund projects that had tolled and nontolled elements. TxDOT is still funding those fourth nontolled lanes but will instead use federal funds for its $105 million share.

“The department is moving beyond Prop. 1 and Prop. 7 and trying to get to a platform where they don’t contribute in any way to tolled facilities,” Heiligenstein said.

On Jan. 31, the commission approved a new agreement with the Mobility Authority that allows the project to proceed.

Improving mobility


The US 183 North toll lanes connecting to Toll 183A and MoPac will allow residents in Northwest Austin, Cedar Park and Leander to take toll lanes all the way to downtown Austin.

“A lot of the challenges that they face are related to the poor design right there at the [curve] at Duval [Road],” Flannigan said.

On the south end, the project will include new direct connectors or flyovers between the toll lanes and MoPac, and southbound drivers can stay in the toll lanes and enter the MoPac toll lane. Northbound drivers can remain in the MoPac toll lane and take the flyover to the US 183 North toll lanes. Drivers may also continue to use the existing flyovers between US 183 and MoPac.

“We’re trying to create more flexibility for people to choose,” Heiligenstein said.
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