As the city of Round Rock experiences large-scale and rapid growth, officials are emphasizing the need to overhaul, upgrade and add to local infrastructure.

Round Rock Transportation Director Gary Hudder said key city initiatives including Driving Progress, a substantial local road improvement program, are helping fund several major projects within the city’s Transportation Master Plan.

“The large-scale capacity improvements will make a big impact for drivers across our entire community as they continue to come online, and we have several more on the way,” Hudder said.

Projects in progress

Projects such as University Boulevard and Kenney Fort Boulevard will see additional lanes and new roads constructed in high-traffic areas to allow for higher capacity as planning for improvements to major arterials, such as Gattis School Road and Hwy. 79, is in the works. City crews began working on an $11.1 million expansion of University to six lanes with a median in 2020. Hudder said the project is expected to be completed in April or May.

Once completed, University will have capacity for more traffic in the quickly growing area that is home to the Round Rock Premium Outlets and IKEA. The project will also bring improvements for drivers and pedestrians, Hudder said.

“The goal is to put a raised median in the entirety of it, which improves safety,” Hudder said.

Farther south, crews are working on the construction of Kenney Fort Boulevard Segments 2 and 3, which began in January. These segments will connect SH 45 N to Gattis School Road, with the completed roadway ultimately connecting SH 45 N to University.

In October, Round Rock awarded a contract for the final piece of Segment 4 that will fully connect the existing pieces of Kenney Fort south of East Old Settlers Boulevard and north of Forest Creek Drive.

Hudder said Kenney Fort is a greenfield project in Round Rock, or one that is constructed on undeveloped land.

“The benefit of that, obviously, is [there will be] new routes that don’t exist today,” Hudder said. “So it helps us distribute traffic throughout the system more functionally.”

While these projects are spearheaded by the city of Round Rock, the Texas Department of Transportation has multiple area projects in the works.

TxDOT is continuing construction on roads feeding into I-35. The expansion to RM 620, the western gateway to central Round Rock, will see two overpasses constructed over Lake Creek Drive, with a roundabout added at the intersection of the Union Pacific railroad and RM 620 at Chisholm Trail Road.

TxDOT Public Information Officer Brad Wheelis said in November crews were making final bridge adjustments to the eastbound overpass, opening it to traffic before the end of the year. Crews are simultaneously working to construct the western frontage road, which Wheelis said is expected to open in early 2023.

According to TxDOT officials, total project costs will be about $27.4 million, with funding coming from the city of Round Rock, Williamson County, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and TxDOT.

A more recent project on the interstate to construct an extended entrance and exit lane from Hwy. 79 to SH 45 N to remediate congestion issues on I-35 is also underway, with crews nearly done removing the existing concrete median barrier, Wheelis said.

TxDOT Austin District Engineer Tucker Ferguson said this segment of road is the 34th most congested portion of roadway in the state.

“Just this little stretch that this project will address is something that will enhance safety and increase mobility on this stretch of roadway,” Ferguson said.

The addition of the entrance and exit lane will help to prevent weaving experienced under the existing configuration, preventing accidents, he said.

Traffic concerns

A biennial survey conducted by Ect. Inc. for the city of Round Rock shows 78% of more than 400 participants ranked traffic as their top concern living in the city’s limits as more people move to the area, bringing their vehicles with them.

One city program that helps address traffic concerns is called Driving Progress. Through that spending initiative, Round Rock officials are working with other regional organizations to invest about $240 million to city road improvements.

Additionally, Hudder said the city’s transportation department is constantly working to improve existing road infrastructure and allocate resources to the most impactful and appropriate projects to best serve citizens.

“From our community surveys to the feedback we are receiving through the Transportation Master Plan process, there is no question that our residents see roadway improvements as a top priority,” Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan said in an email. “It is our job to ensure that the staff has the funding they need to work aggressively on capacity and connectivity across our roadway network.”

Roadwork ahead

As these projects are being constructed, there are additional projects in planning stages. The widening of Gattis School Road and a section of Hwy. 79 are in the process of completing right-of-way acquisition and the beginning of project design, respectively, Hudder said.

To speed up the process from design to construction, Round Rock has requested to take over design of the Hwy. 79 widening project, Hudder said. He said that request was granted in November.

“They were not initially as in favor of that as we thought they would be,” Hudder said. “We spent several months negotiating with them about our desire to do that and why we think that helps move the project along.”

In August, TxDOT received environmental clearance for the project. Wheelis said the next step in the process is right-of-way acquisition.

CAMPO, which is the regional transportation planning organization that distributes state and federal funding for projects, is also in the planning phase of conducting a corridor study of the roadway from A.W. Grimes Boulevard to FM 619 in Taylor, looking ahead at future growth in the area.

“We continue to work with Williamson County and with the development community,” Hudder said. “Aside from just what we’re in control of in leading, there’s a lot of energy being focused in our area right now, which is good long term.”