Project teams have broken ground on the State Highway (SH) 71 Express Lanes project in Austin. Officials with McCarthy Building Cos., the Texas Dept. of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) marked the start of construction on January 28.

Photo courtesy of McCarthy Building Cos.
Local officials turn shovels of dirt at SH 71 Express Project site located at SH 71 and FM 973 near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin.

The $96.3 million project will incorporate the building and improvement of express toll traffic lanes on SH 71. Scope of the project includes the design and construction of 4.5 miles of one toll lane in each direction on SH 71 between Presidential Blvd. and SH 130. The project also includes construction of a bridge over SH 130 with ramps connecting the toll lanes and SH 130, the reconstruction and realignment of the intersection at SH 71 and Farm to Market Road (FM) 973, widening of SH 71 from Presidential Blvd. to SH 130 to allow for three non-tolled lanes in each direction, as well as a pedestrian pathway system.

This is also McCarthy’s first design-build highway project in Texas.

“The design-build procurement was chosen to accelerate the construction of the toll lanes within a very congested area of Austin,” says TxDOT Information Specialist Mark Cross. “In addition, the size of the project allowed TxDOT to utilize a streamlined version of the design-build procurement. Well-qualified teams were put together to execute a successful procurement.”

McCarthy will use a multi-phased approach on the project, with an emphasis on maintaining safe traffic flow through the corridor and minimizing impact to adjacent businesses and the Austin Bergstrom International Airport.

“McCarthy’s schedule and proposal shortened the construction duration for substantial completion to 644 days,” says McCarthy Dallas Division Project Director Jeffrey Billows. “The first phase of the project involves relocation of existing utilities in the western portion of the corridor to allow for the expansion of the roadway and addition of the toll lanes. The eastern portion of the corridor is unaffected by utilities and will be built concurrently with the utility relocations. The second phase of the project involves construction of the new toll lanes in the western portion of the corridor. The final phase is the tie in of the two portions of the corridor and integration of the tolling systems with existing infrastructure.”

TxDOT’s original RFP called for the construction completion period to not exceed 730 days.

According to Cross, the project has several challenges ahead, including constructing the toll lanes amidst high volumes of traffic currently using the highway; coordinating construction activities with the nearby Austin-Bergstrom International Airport’s daily operations and construction activities; and working at elevation above State Highway 130, an open toll road, with minimum interference to the traveling public.

McCarthy is working with design partner LAN Inc. on the project. SH 71 has not been updated since 1990, despite a subsequent increase in traffic by 158%.

Project teams anticipate the SH 71 Express Lanes project will be completed in summer 2016.