AUSTIN, Texas - The Y at Oak Hill where US 290 and SH 71 split off is a major gateway in and out of Austin. But it's also a place where traffic flow typically comes to a grinding halt.
Recent modifications only provided limited relief for those who drive through the Y. "We were going out just yesterday, it took about a good 30 minutes going through," said commuter Paul Yanez.
On Thursday morning with a groundbreaking ceremony, TxDOT officially launched a $674 million rebuild. "30 years of talk is over, and today we start doing, said Texas Transportation Commission chairman J. Bruce Bugg.
The Oak Hill Parkway is a seven-mile project. The road is elevated to pass over William Cannon. Approaching the Y, US 290 drops down into the ground. Flyover ramps provide access to and from Highway 71.
The project is the result of court challenges, negations and compromises with environmental groups, a long fight that former Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty took note of Thursday. "It is the most ecologically sensitive road perhaps in the Milky Way," he said.
The area is prone to flooding. That’s why storm water features along Williamson Creek will be installed. The massive project is not just about traffic connectivity, there is a safety element involved. The Fire Chief of Oak Hill told FOX 7 the new roadway will help response to calls for help, but prevention is also being built in.
"The fact that they considered, included pedestrian access in here, talking about people walking, biking, running, this area is a great view point for that, for them to include that into this large of a project, it really tells us how much safety they considered for the project when they do these projects," said Chief Jeffery Wittig.
For commuters, the daily grind and flash of brake lights will continue for several years. The traffic lights will not disappear until the new road opens in 2026.
"It can be frustrating and disreputable, so anytime we have lane closures we try to do them in off peak hours, overnight, or weekends for example to minimize that, but at times traffic will be disrupted we just ask for patience from the traveling public," said Tucker Ferguson, TxDOT Austin District Engineer.
Commuters who spoke to FOX 7 say they don’t look forward to construction hang ups but understand work will eventually end.
"Unfortunately, but it’s going to pay off. It will pay off in the long run. I'll put up with it, I’ll deal with it, it will be awesome, I can’t wait to see it," said Alfred McClendon.
That payoff will not involve a pay out by drivers. The project is fully funded and the Oak Hill Parkway will not be a tollway.
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