AUSTIN (KXAN) - About 30 miles north of the the Downtown Austin gridlock, drivers have an important decision to make. Brave the stand-still rush hour on Interstate 35 or try a relatively new route around the city, the toll road, State Highway 130.
"We have appointments to make," said Antonio Guzman, as he began filling up his semi-truck, hauling auto-parts to Laredo. "If we get late, they charge."
At the last stop before the last leg of his weekly trucking trek, Guzman said always finds himself leaning toward tradition and I-35, a more direct shot to Guzman's destination.
True, SH 130 is faster. Actually, it's the fastest in the nation at 85 mph. The toll road takes you east away from development and other drivers. Many use the upper section, but down on Segments 5 and 6 it is a different story.
This privately-owned portion stretches 41 miles through rural Travis, Caldwell and Guadalupe Counties all the way to Seguin. A financial report profiling the SH 130 Concession Co. says, so far, the company has seen only about half the number of drivers it projected.
Anticipation of the toll road mounted since developers reached a deal seven years ago. Then construction began in 2009. The first drivers hit the pavement last October.
The company spent $1.4 billion dollars to build the stretch. And it has an agreement to operate the stretch for 50 years, sharing revenue with the state.
Texas has several tollways, many seeing success. The Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority, for example, operates two tollways in the Houston area and one more is on the way.
A decade ago, smaller streets and rural roads could not keep up in that area.
"(It would) take people 40 minutes to make a trip they make now in 8-12 minutes," said the authority's spokesman, Mike Stone.
Each year, Stone said more drivers are using their system. In 2006, they had 18 million vehicles. In 2012, it is almost 25 million.
That is a big payoff. During the same time period, revenue went from $11 million a year to $19 million a year. Officials say the reason those numbers have grown is because the area has, too - tremendously.
"It's just wall-to-wall shopping centers and homes now," Stone said. "Kevin Costner got it right. If you build it, they'll come eventually. They may not come tomorrow, but they will come."
And SH 130 Concession Co. officials say the same is true for its tollway, that they "remain confident that the recently-opened road...will benefit (their) investors and the people of Texas."
Guzman said he agrees. More time and more traffic will push people and development to the new tollway.
"After three or four o'clock, I take that loop, that new loop, because the traffic is really bad," he said. "Right now, I just want to go home. After six days on the road, I just want to go home."
Records obtained from the state show fewer than a million cars in the first three months the southern section of SH 130 was open. A request for dates beyond that is pending with the state.
Perhaps a bright point for traffic count on the tollway has been the Circuit of the Americas. The raceway and event center just opened last fall. While it is just north of the private portion in question, it still brings hundreds of thousands of vehicles with each large event. Many are using the new stretch, too.
The SH 130 Concession Co. says it is also actively working to draw drivers to its road. There is a promotional campaign that has been online, on-air and on-road. Plus, the company has worked to create partnerships and work with communities and chambers along the stretch.
Plus, the Texas Department of Transportation reduced the toll rates for trucks along SH 130 for an entire year.
Sub-freezing temperatures and an approaching upper level disturbance could combine to produce some patchy freezing drizzle or sleet Saturday and early Sunday morning.
Investigators are still trying to figure out who murdered an Austin teacher in Benghazi on Thursday.
Back in June, Governor Rick Perry signed a new law officially letting teachers and students use greetings such as "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hannukah" in school, all without getting in any trouble.
The Round Rock-based computer giant, Dell Inc., is offering some workers voluntary buyouts as it seeks to trim costs and boost productivity.
The Austin Humane Society reopened to the public Friday after closing its doors for six weeks.
Sub-freezing temperatures will continue across much of Central Texas all day Saturday. A second disturbance associated with the winter storm that slammed Texas Thursday and Friday could lead to more freezing precipitation Saturday and …