CTRMA shares early plans for 183A extension
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
LEANDER — Curious residents pored over graphics and engineering documents Nov. 14 to try and get a sense of what future plans are for the next phase of 183A.
During an open house to see what plans the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) have for the 183A Phase III project, visitors had the chance to talk one-on-one with engineers and officials from the organization.
The basic plan will be to extend the toll road from Hero Way in Leander north to about one mile past the SH 29 intersection, a 6.6 mile stretch. The planned transition back to non-tolled highway will be around CR 258.
Assistant Director of Engineering Michael Sexton said at this point there are no plans for the CTRMA to address any issues north of where the extension ends.
“Right now our main project limits end at 29,” he said. “A future project? Maybe one day. I believe Williamson County is looking at does this project continue north. That hasn’t been decided yet. This intersection is in that gray area, it could be something we look at between now and final design for the project. It is really a question of where does that final project begin transition.”
The CTRMA is currently in the environmental process on the project, and anticipating final design in the fall of 2019 and the start of construction in 2020. Anticipated completion time is 2023.
The toll road extension will not impact the roads currently in place.
“The roads you see out there now stay exactly the way they are,” Sexton said. “They’re not going away, they’re not moving. There’s room enough in the middle for the freeway to be added. The only thing that changes is where the ramps are tying in.”
Engineering documents show three on and off ramps along the new route in each direction. At the SH 29 and US 183 intersection, the plan is for the toll road to go under SH 29 due to the long downward slope south of the intersection.
“183A will go under 29,” Sexton said. “Right now that’s the plan, and part of our engineering process going forward is to validate that. The big thing is going (south) it is downhill so when you are up real high above it and you are trying to go downhill you will chase that grade forever.”
As part of the project, a 10-foot shared-use path will run parallel to the roadway on the west side from Hero Way to the proposed south end of the Seward Junction Loop, just north of Mourning Dove Lane.
“We’re taking it all the way up right now to the south end of the Seward Junction Loop, that new crossing just south of 29,” Sexton said. “Then we’ll have access to the future park (in Larkspur) with a path under the freeway. You will be able to take the trail all the way south and be interconnected.”
The entire path will be paved with a pedestrian bridge over the South San Gabriel River.
The highway will be built completely between the existing roadways, with two lanes in each direction first, with an option to build a third lane each way later on. Sexton said the decision on whether to build two or three lanes now came down to financial questions.
“One issue is economics,” he said. “That additional cost can make a project too expensive at this time, so what we’re really looking at is traffic. If it works on two lanes, then building a third lane is not really a justifiable expense for 15 to 20 years. If you told me we would need three lanes a year after we open we’d look at building it now.”
This first step is to do all the environmental planning for the eventual complete project, and begin seeking feedback from the community, which is what the open house was all about.
“Feedback is one of our most important things,” he said. “We really want to build a project the public wants. We want a project where the public feels like their needs are addressed. We’re doing an open house today, and it is not a required part of the process. We want the feedback and the comments and we want to be able to see what people see as the big issues.”
Even when all the engineering work adds up to a plan that makes sense, there could be other issues that impact the plan.
“We design in a vacuum sometimes, we need to come out and get the public to give that feedback where they see issues they think that need to be addressed,” Sexton said.
In addition to the open house, there is a virtual open house with ways for residents to ask questions and leave comments online at www.183a.com. On the site, there are all the diagrams and the data presented at the open house. Questions and comments will be accepted into late spring as the environmental process comes to a close.
“These are super important to us because it gives us that information,” Sexton said. “We take it all back and we keep a complete database of it. We’ll go through all these comments and see what filters up. If you get a comment on the same thing 20 times it is usually a big priority, and we look at how do we address it.”
A second public event is anticipated for after the first of the year.