SH 130 stretch has unsteady start

MUSTANG RIDGE, Texas (KXAN) – It was meant to ease congestion on Interstate 35 in Austin, but records show the new, southern section of the SH 130 toll road has had an unsteady start.

It is a state highway, but a private company owns and operates it – which created challenges in obtaining traffic counts and revenue figures. Officials with the Texas Department of Transportation – which maintains the records – would not reveal the numbers for the bulk of the time the road has been open.

Three months after the request and a Texas Attorney General opinion in KXAN’s favor, TxDOT released the records, showing several ups and downs for the tollway.

Month                         Vehicles           Revenue

October 2012            47,500              N/A

November 2012        468,500            $805,700

December 2012        425,600            $1,503,600

January 2013            353,700            $1,214,900

February 2013          359,900            $1,243,800

March 2013               466,100            $1,530,800

April 2013                 398,100            $1,005,700

May 2013                 425,500             $1,037,500

The SH 130 Concession Co. spent nearly $1.4 billion to build the stretch, sharing revenue with the state. Officials acknowledged the roadway is still young, but they are ready for the long haul.

“We’re in place to be here for 50 years, and we’ll be here for the duration of our contract,” said spokeswoman Megan Compton. “It takes time to get people to change their native travel patterns, and we know that this is a marathon and not a sprint.”

This privately-owned section – officially called SH 130 Segments 5 and 6 – boasts the fastest speed limit in the nation at 85 miles per hour. It stretches 41 miles through rural Travis, Caldwell and Guadalupe Counties all the way to Seguin.

Anticipation of the toll road mounted since developers reached a deal seven years ago. Then construction began in 2009. The first drivers hit the pavement last October.

“People know more about this highway, and I’m pretty sure more people will come through here,” said Jerry Cavada, a trucker driver.

The SH 130 Concession Co. says it is actively working to draw drivers to its road, already seeing an increase in vehicles on holidays and destination dates. There is a promotional campaign that has been online, on-air and on-road. Plus, the company has worked to create partnerships and work with communities and chambers along the stretch.

And the Texas Department of Transportation reduced the toll rates for 18-wheelers along SH 130 for an entire year through next March.

Perhaps a bright point for traffic count on the tollway has been the Circuit of the Americas. The raceway and event center just opened last fall. While it is just north of the private portion of the road, it still brings hundreds of thousands of vehicles with each large event. Many are using the new stretch, too.

Older tollways in the area are seeing success, but it took time for their numbers to go up. The Central Texas Turnpike System – managed by TxDOT – had just over 200,000 vehicles a day five years ago. At the end of the last fiscal year, it was up to more than 273,000.

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