By BRAD ROLLINS
A future widening of Texas 21, the heavily traveled highway that straddles nearly the entire length of the Hays-Caldwell counties line, could include toll lanes, a Texas Department of Transportation official now says.
The north-south road comes within a mile of where Segment 4 of the massive Texas 130 toll road will dump into U.S. 183 at Mustang Ridge when it opens this year. TxDOT Austin district engineer Bob Daigh told Hays County commissioners at a recent meeting that Texas 21 could be retrofitted as “some kind of express lanes to connect 35 to 130.”
“The hope [for improvement funding] for 21 is perhaps in a public-private partnership realignment that may come with with some funding mechanism besides direct state funding,” Daigh said.
Asked for clarification by Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley, Daigh said he was talking about a “toll-type partnership. …Given the situation we face with state and federal funding, I think all the added capacity projects we can undertake are going to have to be done so with some kind of public-private participation.”
Residents who live along the road, including those in the tiny towns of Niederwald and Uhland, have clamored for some kind of expansion of the road for years. Four million to match a state contribution of the same size was part of a $155.8 million bond package rejected by voters in May 2007. The money would have added turn lanes at four of the most dangerous intersections including two with roads that feed traffic to nearby schools.
When the package failed, TxDOT applied their portion of the match to resurfacing Farm-to-Market Road 1826.
“It is particularly troublesome because alot of traffic coming through here is freight traffic as it kind of has become an eastern alternative to I-35,” said Diana Woods, the Uhland city administrator and a member of the county’s transportation advisory board.
She has been among the most aggressive advocates for safety improvements to Texas 21. But she said she has not heard mention of toll lanes being part of the picture.
“That is not my understanding. I don’t think they’ve ever said anything about it being a toll road,” Woods said. “But with this stuff you never know.”
But Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton said he heard tolls in Daigh’s message, which was rather atypically vague.
“I have never heard that before in so many years. … But he did use guarded language that I would translate to mean possibly tolls,” Barton said.
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