First phase of Robinson Road planned improvements could begin this year

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The first of several projects along Robinson Road in Oak Ridge North could move forward later this year, providing a step toward traffic relief for commuters and city residents traveling the overburdened thoroughfare.

The first phase of construction, centered on the city’s I-45 interchange and Robinson Road-Westwood Drive intersection, is expected to cost about $6.3 million and will be mostly funded through Montgomery County’s 2015 road bond.

At its July 22 regular meeting, Oak Ridge North City Council unanimously approved the three right of way purchases at Robinson and Westwood needed for construction on that portion of the road. The acquisitions totaled nearly $89,000.

Montgomery County Precinct 3, which entered into an interlocal agreement with the city to complete the overpass and intersection project, is now cleared to begin its portion of work given the city’s finalized acquisitions.

The redesign includes two new signaled intersections on the east and west ends of the I-45 overpass, with realigned lanes and ramps connecting to each junction. Three of the four ramps will be adjusted to carry traffic in only one direction between the overpass and I-45 frontage roads. The southeastern ramp includes a two-way section providing access to offices and undeveloped space south of Robinson. The redesign also includes widening Robinson at Westwood Drive and Patsy Lane to two east- and westbound lanes with one center turn lane on both sides of the intersection.

Precinct 3 estimates construction at $4.5 million for its portion of the interchange work. A county design engineer last year estimated the city’s share of expenses at $1.8 million for the first phase of construction. The cost and funding for future project phases is yet to be determined. 

Future projects

Other major Robinson Road enhancements expected within the next decade include the addition of an eastbound left turn lane and traffic signal at the city Commerce Park, and the realignment of Robinson’s intersection with Hanna Road and the Union Pacific Corp. railroad tracks, resulting in a single signaled intersection there.

Following the first phase of road work on the interchange and Westwood intersection, the Hanna and Commerce Park projects are anticipated in the next two years. Adding two lanes on Robinson Road between Westwood Drive and Hanna Road has also been considered in the city’s long-term plans and could be implemented within the next decade depending on traffic needs after the other projects are complete.

“Each phase will accomplish a portion of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which calls for improving traffic on Robinson Road. Improvements have been defined by the consulting engineers in terms of traffic delay and level of service,” said Joe Sherwin, Oak Ridge North’s director of public works and engineering, in an email.

The notion of reshaping portions of Robinson Road has carried through civic steering documents in Oak Ridge North since the 2000s, most recently in the 2013 Comprehensive Plan and 2018 Master Thoroughfare Plan. The Houston-Galveston Area Council’s 2015 South County Mobility Plan also included recommendations for improving Robinson, which was evaluated as “severely over capacity” within Oak Ridge North based on 2013-14 traffic counts.

Retired Mayor Jim Kuykendall and former City Manager Vicky Rudy both emphasized changes to Robinson Road during their terms over the past decade, and current Mayor Paul Bond said he anticipates it being a focus while he holds office as well.

“Once they get that construction underway and completed, hopefully that will alleviate some of the issues with Robinson Road,” Bond said.

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