Major Overhaul Planned for 183 North

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Major Overhaul Planned for 183 North

Depending on your own personal take on toll roads, the latest announcement from the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority will either come as fantastic news, or, your reaction may be... less than enthusiastic.  On Wednesday, CTRMA voted to move forward with final negotiations with the Texas Department of Transportation for completion of a $500-million project to expand a lengthy stretch of Highway 183 North.

Since 2013, transportation planners have been considering more toll lanes as a solution to mobility on 183.  Currently, much of northern 183 is comprised of three general purpose lanes in each direction, each side split by a median, and three frontage road lanes on either of the highway.  Now, CTRMA is moving forward with a plan to add four new toll lanes to the center of 183 -- two in each direction -- as well as two new general purpose, non-tolled lanes, bring the total number of lanes up to 18, including the frontage roads.

It's a lofty plan, said CTRMA Director of Engineering Justin Word.

"From State Highway 45 in the north to Mopac/Loop 1 in the south -- about nine miles along that facility," Word said.  "Total project cost right now hovers around $500-million."

CTRMA has entered negotiations with the Texas Department of Transportation because that stretch of roadway is in TxDOT's jurisdiction.  Because of that, CTRMA's primary focus will be the addition of the four new toll lanes.  TxDOT, meanwhile, will oversee the construction of the non-tolled, general purpose lanes, along with sidewalks and shared-use paths.

A project of this scope will undoubtedly take years to complete.  As of now, the timeline shows ground to be broken by 2021, with full completion sometime in 2025.  Word told the CTRMA board he'd love to expedite this project somehow, but he's concerned that won't be possible due to an increase in labor costs.

"I don't want to set us up for what I fear would be an unachievable schedule," Word said.

CTRMA was heavily criticized durung construction of the Mopac Improvement Project.  Orignally, that project was slated for full completion by late-2015, but the bulk of the construction was not complete until 2017, and a few lingering issues, including sound wall construction, actually stretched into 2018.  Word said back in March that he does not want a repeat of those delays, and offering incentives for speedy completion could be a way to mitigate the possibility of similar issues on 183.

"I found a powerful draw in the right level of incentives to get them to an early completion, and I hope that bears fruit here.  So, that's an approach that we're looking at very seriously," Word said.

As for pricing, CTRMA is expected to implement variable tolling, much like on Mopac, allowing for the raising or lowering of rates based on the volume of traffic at any given time of day.

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