A big change is coming to a major Austin 'traffic bottleneck. TX DOT says it will improve Hwy 71 east of the airport. But the good news comes with a catch. The new roadway will be a toll road.
The new plan was put into the fast lane because of another toll-road. The private company that's operating the southern leg of SH-130 made a $100-million payment to the state. Half of that cash is now seed money for a road that could be called the 71 Jetway.
For years jets taking off from ABIA have sailed over Hwy 71 gridlock and for years those caught up in it have had a simple request.
"Fix that so we're here today to fix that, and that is State Hwy 71," said Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ted Houghton.
Thursday, state and local official's unveiled plans for new sections of elevate roadway that will take commuters above the brake lights. This final segment of expressway just east of the airport will allow for the free flow of traffic between the SH130 toll way and MoPac.
"So we're providing folks with an option that will avoid those signals and congestion we normally see on SH 71," said State senator Kirk Watson (D) Austin.
The fast track when the new lanes open in 2016 will not be free tolls will be charged. That's a little disappointing to drivers like Cornell Robinson.
"Make it free. But I got to travel down it anyway so I'm either going to pay or not," said Robinson.
This new $141 million project will roll on top of the nearly completed $4-million super-street project it was designed to ease some of the congestion at FM 973. Its necessity now is questioned by commuters like Rawling Spencer.
"I think it's a wastes, a waste, they should make it into a nice street where traffic can move freely but not a toll way," said Spencer.
Road planners say the super street buys time and will not be discarded but incorporated into the non-tolled part of the project.
"We'll actually get a much better flow through even on the frontage roads than what you'll have even with the super street," said Chief Planner & Project manager Russell Zapalack.
Construction could start late next year. Toll rates have not yet been set, but will be collected by the CTRMA. After construction loans are paid off the tolls will go toward maintenance and be used as seed money for other projects. There is the possibility the new 71 toll way will eventually extend east toward Bastrop.