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TxDOT shares project updates

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As the Austin metropolitan region continues to face growth, the state’s transportation department is keeping busy in Bastrop County.

On Thursday evening, representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Bastrop area office gave a presentation to interested citizens covering the projects currently underway in Bastrop County. The meeting was hosted by Stanberry Realtors in Bastrop.

The meeting started with a general update from Bastrop area engineer Diana Schulze of all the projects, both planned or currently under construction, all across Bastrop County.

The improvements currently underway along U.S. Highway 290 between Elgin and Paige are expected to be completed by spring or summer of 2021. This project, which broke ground in January 2019, is widening an 8.2-mile stretch of the highway starting one mile east of FM 696. The improvements include adding a grassy median between the eastbound and westbound lanes and adding shoulders on the inside and outside of the lanes. Similar upgrades on either side of this portion of the highway near Elgin and Paige have already been completed, so this project is “closing the gap” between the two prior projects. The goal is to divide the opposing lanes of Highway 290 all the way from Austin to Houston, Schulze said.

On the south side of the county, the State Highway 304 corridor from Caldwell County to Trigg Road, just south of Bastrop, will be upgraded with new shoulders over the next couple of years. From Trigg Road to FM 2571, the road will be widened and 10-foot shoulders will be added; this portion of the project was just put out for bids and should begin this spring. Adding shoulders from FM 2571 to FM 535 will go out for bids in October, while adding shoulders to the portion from FM 535 to the Caldwell County line will be put out for bids in February 2022.

A project adding three-foot shoulders and culvert upgrades to FM 2571, a road between Highway 304 and Smith-ville, is scheduled to be completed this summer or fall.

TxDOT is currently placing pipe end treatments and upgrading cross culverts on FM 3000, north of Elgin. This project is expected to be done in February.

A new left turn lane and a signal is planned to be added to State Highway 95 at LBA Drive. This project will go out for bids this summer, with construction starting in late summer or early fall.

On the southwest side of the county, State Highway 21 between State Highway 71 and State Highway 130 in Caldwell County will be given turn lanes in certain locations and upgraded to a “super two” highway. In Texas, this term refers to a two-lane road with an additional passing lane that alternates between one direction and the other. Schulze said the contractors for the project began work this week.

A project adding sidewalks long Loop 150 in Bastrop, is scheduled to start this summer.

Additionally, TxDOT is looking at studying more potential projects, although no funding or solid plans are ready yet. One of these ideas is a feasibility study looking at dividing Highway 21 from FM 1441 to Highway 290, between Lake Bastrop and Paige. Consultants are also currently working on a study looking at what may be needed in the future as growth occurs on FM 1209 and FM 969 west of Bastrop.

Next, Bastrop area assistant engineer William Semora gave a more detailed look at some of TxDOT’s major upcoming projects along Highway 71. He started by saying this is the busiest their office has ever been.

A current major project for TxDOT in Bastrop is adding frontage roads for Highway 71 across the Colorado River. The contract for the project was awarded about eight months ago, and the project broke ground at the end of July. The $55 million project is expected to take three years and scheduled for completion in 2022, and Semora said the contractors have been making good progress and are on schedule.

The week before the meeting, construction has progressed to working in the river to add the foundations for the frontage road, which Semora said they hoped to have finished within the next two to three months to avoid the rainy season. Work in the river is done by using barriers sealed to the bottom of the river to drain portions at a time.

Semora added that the roads on the west side of the river should “drive the same” as it does now, but on the east side, the frontage road will pass over Water Street and tie back into Pecan and Gutierrez streets. Additionally, Highway 71 across the river will be widened to add a new median. Semora said one challenge will be teaching drivers where two-way roads have turned into one-way frontage roads; however, in order to accommodate Bastrop ISD school buses coming from homes in Tahitian Village west of the river and south of Highway 71, Lover’s Lane will still be a two-way road for a short piece of the frontage road.

Next, Semora and the audience discussed upgrades to Highway 71 west of Bastrop, including adding overpasses at Tucker Hill, Pope Bend Road and FM 1209. The projects at Tucker Hill and Pope Bend Road will go out for bids in May 2022, while the overpass at FM 1209, which is more complex and still requires more right-of-way acquisition by TxDOT first, is scheduled to go out for bids in May 2024.

Schulze said the reason for adding these overpasses is to eventually eliminate all red lights between Austin and Houston along Highway 71.

Semora walked the audience through the schematics for these three projects. When discussing accommodations for future traffic, he said the federal government, which supplies much of the funds for these projects, restricts TxDOT from building more than what is needed based on their 20-year traffic study; however, TxDOT is building wide shoulders and medians into the Highway 71 improvements in order to more easily allow for future expansion.

Schulze concluded the meeting by encouraging people to contact the Bastrop area TxDOT office with any questions.