Saturday, September 30, 2006

What's Up With that Absent Exit and Idle Bridge?
Monday, September 25, 2006

by Ben Wear

What's Up With That returns today after a lengthy vacation and fact-finding tour to the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska, the Trans-Rhode Island Corridor toll road project and the Marfa light rail system.

If you don't recall, What's Up With That is a (very, very) occasional feature in Getting There where I attempt to satisfy your curiosity (or mine) about oddities or outrages on Central Texas roads. So, without further ado . . .

Q: I was headed southbound recently on that new highway section of U.S. 183 in Northeast Austin and I wanted to exit and then go east on U.S. 290 toward Elgin. To my shock, there was no exit, and I ended up having to making a U-ie at the next exit beyond 290. What's up with that?

A: Well, there is an exit, actually. But it's a full mile and a half back to the northwest, just past Interstate 35 and before you get to Cameron Road. Which means that to go from one major, newly refurbished highway to a major route to Houston, you have go through two or three stoplights.

If you know when to exit.

Bob Daigh, the Austin district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, points out that there are three signs back to the northwest on U.S. 183 telling you that there is a Cameron Road/U.S. 290 exit coming up. That's true, but when you're that far away from U.S. 290, you might not realize that's the only exit.

Daigh said there was room near U.S. 290 only for the entrance onto U.S. 183, not for an exit. He said a flyover bridge is planned for that left turn to U.S. 290 when the segment east of there is upgraded as a tollway. Pending resolution of the great toll road debate, that project could begin within a year. Or not.

Q: That upgrade of Texas 71 east of I-35 to Riverside Drive seems to be taking forever. And why hasn't that last flyover bridge from westbound 71 to northbound I-35 opened? It was finished more than a year ago.

A: The $53 million, 2.1-mile Texas 71 project now is predicted to finish around Christmas, after almost four years of construction. In that same time frame, the state will have built 40 miles of toll roads from scratch in North Austin and Williamson County. For something close to $2 billion.

As for that last flyover bridge, which has basically been a very tall piece of public art since the summer of 2005, it has been waiting on work to finish near Burleson Road. It will open when the Texas 71 project opens.

Q: Will motorcycles be allowed on the toll roads opening soon, and will they pay more or less than cars? And what about bicycles?

A: First on the bicycles: No, cyclists won't be allowed to ride on the toll roads.

As for motorcycles, because they typically have no windshield they will get special TxTags that can be affixed to nonmetallic surfaces like the front fender.

Unlike car/truck tags, which for now are being handed out free, motorcycle TxTags will cost a $20 tag deposit. That deposit will be refunded when the user closes the TxTag account. The toll charges for a motorcycle will be the same as for cars.

Getting There appears Mondays. For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at 445-3698 or

By Ben Wear

George Eliot


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