Our Chairman, Ray Wilkerson, outlined it clearly last October: “Over the last 50 years, the US 183 corridor has become one of the Austin area’s most important arterials — but improvements to it have been relatively minor.”
This week, we broke ground on the 183 South Expressway Project, signifying the largest step yet in addressing long overdue improvements to the US 183 corridor between US 290 and SH 71. The journey to this point has been long and involved the partnership and collaboration of many.
Constructed in the mid-1960s, US 183 is a primary route to and from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and serves as a main corridor for Austin’s east side. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Mobility Authority launched a new environmental study in 2011 to develop a sound and feasible approach to improve mobility and ease congestion on a roadway that carries more than 60,000 cars and trucks each day.
Since US 183 was originally built, our region has grown from a city of 214,000 to over two million in the Austin metro area. If you saw the Austin American-Statesman’s latest census estimate, Austin is the 32nd largest metro area in the United States. And among metro areas with more than one million people, Austin has been the fastest-growing for the past five years. Whether we like it or not, growth is here, and it will continue. We must deliberately plan for tomorrow to ensure our quality of life isn’t negatively impacted by an aging infrastructure and lack of mobility.
Over the past five years, we’ve been working with the community, local contractors and TxDOT to design a roadway that not only provides non-stop, signal-free access to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport but also provides a vital link for east Austin to the wider community. The safer, more efficient roadway will feature a design that reflects the cultural values of this historic community. It will bring new businesses and new markets for established ones, employment opportunities and will improve the corridor’s aesthetic appeal with enhanced landscaping, tree preservation and an expanded urban canopy.
The completed project includes construction of an 8-mile expressway in the median of the existing US 183 with three tolled lanes in each direction. It also includes reconstructing and improving the non-tolled general purpose lanes and adding $25 million worth of bicycle lanes, sidewalks and shared use paths with connections to the regional trail system as well as a new trail head near the Colorado River. We’ll also preserve the historic Montopolis Bridge by transforming this cultural landmark into a bicycle and pedestrian bridge.
We know the positive impact a well-planned infrastructure project can have on a community because we’ve seen it before. The success we have seen, and continue to see – from both 183A and the 290 Expressway – have proven the economic growth that can be generated by mobility improvements of this scale.
The 2007 opening of 183A spurred economic investment in Cedar Park and Leander—to the tune of $600 million. The roadway has improved north-south travel times in the region, and opened up a whole new corridor for development creating new resources for the community, most notably in healthcare with the opening of the Cedar Park Medical Center. We are seeing comparable growth along the 290 corridor following the completion of the 290 Expressway, with new retailers, restaurants and new subdivisions breaking ground. This route quickly went from one of Austin’s most gridlocked to the fasted way into the city during rush hour.
And it’s clear that travelers recognize the benefits of enhanced mobility options and added capacity with both roadways quickly exceeding traffic and revenue projections.
East Austin has long awaited a reliable link to the greater Austin area as well as the Austin Bergstrom International Airport. All signs say the 183 South Expressway will accomplish that, and more. As other areas of town build out, east Austin, which has been long been neglected and marginalized, will become a magnet for growth and redevelopment. And greater mobility is critical to fostering a business climate to maintain that growth. The new Expressway will augment the emerging development that is already taking shape and lead east Austin on a path to realizing its full economic potential – not only for today’s benefits, but our children and future generations.
If you are interested in learning more about the Mobility Authority, you can view materials, meeting schedules, and more on our website, www.MobilityAuthority.com