Express toll lanes on SH 71 open this week

Ribbon cutting for State Highway 71 toll roads
Ribbon cutting for State Highway 71 toll roads (KXAN Photo/ Todd Bailey)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Central Texans know all about traffic; some people who live off State Highway 71 have no choice.

SH 71 is the only way out of Harold Whitehead’s neighborhood, and it’s usually busy.

“It’s been hectic,” he says. “There’s no other way for me to get out.”

TxDOT hopes to make the drive a little smoother, by adding two tolled express lanes near the airport. The lanes start near Presidential Boulevard and run eastbound to SH 130. The eastbound lane is expected to open Tuesday, the westbound toll lane is already open. Construction on the SH 71 Express Project started in 2015 and was scheduled to be complete in October of 2016.

“I think it will do some good,” says Dwayne Thompson, who lives off SH 71.

Thompson has already noticed an improvement, after crews removed several stop lights along the stretch of SH 71. “It does help because it would bottleneck and it’s a nightmare, especially in the mornings.”

Whitehead thinks the lanes will help out-of-towners passing through, but for his family, more lanes may cause more problems. “This traffic is moving pretty fast and it’s hard to maneuver out of this neighborhood on to 71, you have five or six lanes you might have to move over.”

If you have a TxTAG, the toll is 87 cents for a two-axle vehicle. If you plan on paying by mail, the toll is $1.16 for the same type of vehicle.

The biggest toll project currently underway in Austin is the MoPac Improvement Project. One section of the northbound side, between Ranch to Market 2222 and Parmer Lane is open. Once it’s finished, there will be one lane north and south, running from Cesar Chavez to Parmer Lane. The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority expects the rest of the lane to open this summer.

CTRMA is also studying adding an express lane or two along MoPac in south Austin. It would run from Cesar Chavez to Slaughter Lane. They expect to hold a public hearing this Fall. Another potential construction project is being looked at along U.S. 183 between MoPac and SH 45 in northwest Austin. Construction would not begin for another two to three years.

A couple of other toll projects are already under construction. The 183 South project will build a toll road around U.S. 183. The frontage road will still be free, but the highway in the middle will be tolled. The first phase of the project is on schedule to open in 2019. And SH 45 Southwest, from MoPac to FM 1626 broke ground last November. It’s expected to open in 2019.

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