Dozens of businesses likely to be displaced by SH 71 construction

The Texas Department of Transportation has put together a proposal for construction along SH 71 and FM 1209 and it includes displacing dozens of businesses and residents. 

The plan is to remove all the stop lights along SH 71 between the Austin airport and Bastrop. It is still subject to change, but 25 business owners and seven homeowners so far have been told they could lose some or all of their property because of the project.

“I think this is going to be a good project for the community because it will be a lot safer around here,” said Jafaar Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Pet and Kennel Supplies on SH 71 in Bastrop County.  

Johnson opened his business just eight months ago and he's already been told to consider moving the location. 

“I do know that this building will be gone sometime within the next 3-4 years,” said Johnson.  

Johnson's store sits just west of the FM 1209 intersection and is one of about 25 businesses and seven homes that will likely be impacted by a planned construction project to widen the highway, add frontage roads and build an overpass over FM 1209. 

“We don't want to acquire additional right of way if we don't have to,” said TxDOT spokesman Brad Wheelis. "Number one, it's an expense for the state. Number two, we don't want to displace folks."

Johnson said some people in the area have lived there for decades.

“Some of these people, not even so much the businesses, but the residents, have been here 30 years. It's sad to see,” Johnson said.  

The current $36 million proposal would cut across about six feet of Johnson’s building. 

“This is a nice sized lot, so I can move back and build a new building,” said Johnson. "So I'm happy about that. As long as everything works out in that manner, I'll be okay."

TxDOT has already met with people that will likely be affected, but appraisals and negotiations have yet to happen. Some people will also qualify for relocation assistance. Either way, TxDOT said the project is necessary. 

“The SH 71 east corridor is growing,” Wheelis said. "From the airport to Bastrop, we're seeing more businesses and homes go up in that area and, therefore, more traffic."

By removing five traffic lights and replacing intersections with overpasses, TxDOT hopes to cut down on crashes in the area as well. 

“Within the last month, there's probably been two wrecks, and in the eight months I've been here, I've seen the traffic get further and further back,” said Johnson. "The red lights are becoming an issue, I'd say."

While affected business owners said they aren't sure how to feel about the changes until they know some more details, they are happy to see some major improvements on the horizon for SH 71. 

“It'll be a straight shot from Austin to Houston. That'll be a good thing,” Johnson said. 

There is another public hearing on the proposal April 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the Bastrop Convention Center. 

Construction is expected to begin in the summer of 2023 with a planned completion date of late 2024.