Austin News >> Austin Toll Roads

10/9/2006 Austin- Hundreds gathered on the newly opened toll roads Wednesday morning during a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially mark the completion of this portion of the Central Texas Turnpike System.

“The turnpike that we will officially open today is one step in about 100 steps that this state will take in the next 20 years that no state in the United States has been able to do,” said Ric Williamson, chair of the Texas Transportation Commission.

Local, state and federal transportation officials met along with politicians and supporters of the turnpike to celebrate the opening of the Loop 1 extension (from Parmer Lane to SH 45 North), SH 45 (from Loop 1 to SH 130) and SH 130 (from U.S. 79 to U.S. 290).

A panel of commissioners, administrators and representatives from Travis and Williamson counties took the stage to stand for the many people who were involved in bringing this part of the Texas Turnpike project to completion.

“Today, congestion is choking our transportation system,” said Mary Phillips, associate administrator for policy for the Federal Highway Administration. “Texas is well ahead of the curve in building and managing innovative transportation.”

The Texas Department of Transportation began removing barricades from entrance and exit ramps to the toll roads on Oct. 31, finishing the majority of the work before the day's end, giving drivers access to the new highways Tuesday evening.

As of Wednesday, 27 of the 65 miles of toll roads planned in the CTTS Project opened. The project began in 2002 as a vision to relieve congestion on Texas highways and improve safety on the roads.

“Today we are not just cutting a ribbon,” said Robert Daigh, Austin district engineer for TxDOT. He thanked everyone involved, all of whom he said represented the commitment to see the vision of the project through.

Several speakers talked of the blow dealt to Central Texas in 1997 when, instead of building here, Dell chose to expand its facilities in Tennessee and moved its executive offices out of the area due to congested highways.

Sen. Steve Ogden said traffic congestion was one of the first issues to hit his desk as a state senator, which he said was a motivator for getting new highways built. Construction of the toll roads began in February 2003 and the November opening of SH 45, the Loop 1 extension and SH 130 occurs a year ahead of schedule and nearly $350 million under budget.

Ceremony attendees - honorees, supporters and employees involved with the project - filled about 800 chairs. Wrapping up the ceremony speakers, Rep. Mike Krusee, chair of the House Committee on Transportation. “I'm kind of tired of talking,” Krusee said. “I”m ready to start driving.”

The toll roads will remain free until Jan. 6, 2007, at which time cash-paying toll customers must pay but TxTag customers continue to drive for free until February. Throughout February TxTag customers will pay half-price tolls; in March they receive the normal 10 percent discount. Another 14 miles of north SH 130 is slated to open before 2007 and additional miles on the south end of SH 130 and the west end of SH 45 are planned to open in 2007.

(Contributed by Hill Country News)