Loop at Seward Junction opens door to increased development
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Today it’s just a new road.
It’s a road that primarily cuts across open pasture and might save commuters a moment or two.
But the new Seward Junction Loop, officially opened for traffic in March by Williamson County, is expected to offer much more than relief for traffic congestion at the SH 29 and US 183 intersection.
“The economic development potential is huge,” Williamson County Pct. 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long said of the new loop. “I tell folks to go look at RM 620 and US 183. When I first moved to Williamson County there were no freeways or anything there, it was a stoplight at that intersection. Then Lake Creek Parkway and Pecan Park and that network of roads came about and changed everything.”
The new loop runs south from SH 29 west of US 183, intersecting with US 183 near the CEFCO at CR 259, then traveling east before meeting SH 29 again.
The first portion of what will eventually be a complete loop around the highway intersection was funded through the 2019 county bond program at a cost of $13.3 million and took 23 months to complete. The new roadway is 2.9 miles in length.
The anticipated change is a highway intersection that has long been quiet and generally draped in pasture land will become one surrounded by development – and it’s not the only one in the area.
“That’s a huge area now for commercial and retail,” Long said. “That creates great opportunities and Liberty Hill is going to be really blessed because there will actually be two intersections like that. There’s another one that will be – when it gets built out – around Ronald Reagan and 29. Those two can have a huge impact on the economic vitality of the area.”
For Liberty Hill Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Executive Director Matt Powell, the new loop opens a wide variety of doors for new development.
“Infrastructure almost always breeds development, especially a loop road like that,” he said. “You think of Seward Junction as an intersection with four corners, but then you do this loop and suddenly you have the existing four corners and then you go and create eight more as you go around the loop.
“By bringing transportation right to the front door of a property it instantly makes it more marketable. If you’ve got access to transportation and you have access to water and sewer, suddenly the value of it rises and the idea of not developing it makes less sense. In a simpler way you can look at what happened in Cedar Park when 183A was completed. Suddenly you have this massive corridor up there,” he said.
With development sure to follow, Powell said it will be important for the City Council and EDC to be prepared.
“What we need to be mindful of in Liberty Hill is we are trying to diversify our tax base, but we want to be pretty clear to continue to grow as a thoughtful, tight-knit community,” Powell said. “It will be imperative for us to embrace the growth, but we need to make sure as it develops it does so thoughtfully and in ways that are benefits to the residents here now.”
While it is unknown what for sure will develop around the new Seward Junction Loop, in October 2019, then-Mayor Rick Hall announced that land on the southwest corner of the intersection had been purchased by Cedar Park Regional Medical Center, saying at the time a sign would be going up soon.
Hospital officials would not confirm the purchase or plans at that time, but this week officials said it was “still in the planning stages” and an update would be provided once they were complete.
“Think about what a hospital means,” Powell said of the possibility. “It certainly improves quality of life because it brings higher-level health care, but it also brings jobs and typically nicely-paying jobs. What would come out of that would be typically restaurants because what they look for is a lunch crowd.”
Long said the plan is to get traffic lights at the Seward Junction Loop and SH 29 on both the east and west intersections.
“We’re looking quickly on getting the lights warranted and getting those done, but I don’t know the timing on that,” she said. “That will make the people going north on 183, turning left on to the loop going west, it will make them getting on 29 much easier.”
The intersections at the loop and US 183 might not happen as quickly as the Central Texas Regional Mobility’s plan for the extension of the toll road north is still being finalized.
As far as future traffic congestion concerns, Long said the hope is the loop, along with the plan for the 183A extension to go under SH 29, will ease the heavier traffic burden in the future.
“Ultimately, what gets traffic moving the best is when you have grade-separated intersections like at 620 and 183, so when the main lanes of 183A (at SH 29 and US 183) continue through that will be separated so that will help the flow at that intersection as well,” Long said.
The toll road extension plan, first shared in 2019, and projected to go out for bid this spring, will go 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.
Preliminary engineering documents for the project 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.
SH 29 Bypass
The section of the planned SH 29 Bypass south of downtown Liberty Hill approved for funding and construction through the 2019 Williamson County bond package is moving forward with design work.
“What we’re doing is we’re also doing improvements on Bagdad, basically from the bypass down south to sort of the Leander city limits, so we’re coordinating those projects together,” Long said. “We hope to have engineering finished this year, then get right of way acquired, with a groundbreaking hopefully by early next year,” she said.
The second of three sections planned to construct the SH 29 Bypass, the current project would connect RM 1869 to CR 279 on the south side of downtown. Eventually the SH 29 bypass is planned to run south of Liberty Hill from SH 29 west of Liberty Hill High School to SH 29 on the east end of town as a southern loop.