The population of Austin, Texas is growing at an estimated rate of 100 residents a day, which is causing a strain on its already inadequate infrastructure.
One way the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) is addressing the situation is with reconstruction of an 8.5-mile stretch of U.S. 183 South – the first step in a long-range program to improve mobility in and around the Austin city limits.
“There has been a tremendous amount of growth over the last several years,” said Becky Fly, WSP project manager for the U.S. 183 South project. The firm is serving as lead designer for Colorado River Constructors (CRC), the design-build team that was hired in May by CTRMA and the Texas Department of Transportation for the $575 million project.
“The main road in Austin is Interstate 35, which runs parallel to U.S. 183 South and will be the next big project after 183 is completed,” Fly said. “Improving U.S. 183 not only creates a viable alternative route for motorists, but prepares it to handle detour traffic when work on I-35 begins.”
Currently, this section of U.S. 183 South is a parkway facility with two or three travel lanes in each direction with traffic signals. The U.S. 183 South project will provide drivers with a non-stop signal-free route. Improvements include enhanced non-tolled frontage lanes and new multimodal transportation options for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. The addition of six optional toll lanes will more than double the highway’s present capacity.
More than 105,000 vehicles per day are expected to use this corridor, which currently handles about 60,000 vehicles per day and stretches from State Highway 290 to State Highway 71 in Travis County. It is the primary route serving Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
CRC’s preliminary design work on the five-year U.S. 183 South project began in August, with a “notice to proceed” officially signed in mid-September. Design work is expected to be completed by summer 2016, with early construction expected to begin in May. The roadway will open to traffic in phases, with the first phase completed in Spring 2018 and the second phase completed a year later.
The CRC team includes Fluor Enterprises, Balfour Beatty, and WSP among its design and engineering consultants, which also worked together on the recently completed design of the Dallas Horseshoe project, a complex interchange through the Dallas central business district, with construction scheduled for completion in Spring 2017. Duane McKinney is serving as deputy project manager on the U.S. 183 South project.
“This team brought a lot of familiarity to the project,” Fly said. “We not only spent eight months together on the proposal, but also several years with the contractors and other team members on the Horseshoe project. It has been a huge benefit knowing each other’s personalities from the start, and having already established a comfortable collaborative relationship. We were able to hit the ground running and avoid the bumps in the road that many teams experience at the start of a project.”
Although early in the design effort, that collaboration and understanding has allowed them to stay ahead of the client’s schedule … a concern of CTRMA that factored into its decision to pick CRC for the U.S. 183 South project.
“The client viewed us as the best-value team for the job with our technical innovations, project enhancements, and proven track record on the Horseshoe,” said Fly, who added that CRC earned a perfect 30-out-of-30 in the technical proposal ranking, raising its team’s final score and delivering the win.
While environmental factors are always a concern on a project this size, CRC faces an unusual challenge with the preservation of at least 45 trees along the corridor, and would be required to pay a fine should any of those trees be damaged or destroyed during construction.
“One particular tree, located in front of historic Callahan's general store, would cost the team $660,000 if destroyed due to construction activity,” Fly said. So as design work proceeds, the team is carefully factoring in the impact on those environmental matters while preparing plans for five grade-separated traffic interchanges and two additional freeway-to-freeway interchanges, 45 bridges and more than 100 retaining walls.
Other factors include the requirement to keep the road open and restrict construction during numerous events, ranging from University of Texas football games to the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival and the South by Southwest film festival. Fly believes they have the pieces in place to stay on target and meet all of these requirements.
“This project brings together good leadership working with a talented team that works very well together and understands our client’s preferences,” Fly said. “It’s going to be very exciting to watch everything come together over the next few years.”