January 5, 2016
By Susan Fraser, P.E.
Texas State Highway (SH) 71 serves as the primary access route leading to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA).It also is a major roadway for daily commuters from neighboring Bastrop County to the Austin metropolitan area and serves as one of two east/west high-capacity routes for traveling between central Texas and east Texas destinations such as Bastrop and Houston.
Over the last two decades, the population of Austin has grown dramatically from just over 650,000 residents in 2000 to more than 900,000 in 2015, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. More than 65,000 motorists per day travel SH 71, making it one of the most congested corridors in the area. This figure is expected to grow to 81,000 by 2036, according to a study by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
To enhance safety and reduce congestion along this corridor, TxDOT and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, in coordination with the city of Austin, are working together on the SH 71 Express Project, a 3.9-mile limited-access toll road beginning just east of U.S. 183 and ending just east of SH 130. The project includes two new toll lanes (one in each direction), new bridges over Farm-to-Market (FM) 973 and SH 130, as well as ramps between toll lanes and the main lanes of SH 71 and SH 130. In addition, the existing SH 71 roadway between Presidential Boulevard and FM 973 will be widened and the same number of existing non-toll lanes will be maintained. The project also includes improvements such as sidewalks and a shared-use path to make the area more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly. The enhanced paths will allow for easier pedestrian access to facilities and businesses along FM 973, SH 130 and SH 71, including the airport.