Some Bastrop County businesses, residents may be forced to move for TxDOT project

Austin

CEDAR CREEK, Texas (KXAN) — As Central Texas keeps growing, traffic is not going to get any easier. 

The Texas Department of Transportation is working on a solution to keep traffic moving along State Highway 71 in Bastrop County. It’s a busy road with thousands of people commuting to Austin every day. It’s also a popular route to head to Houston. 

Over the years, the number of drivers has increased along a two and a half mile stretch of SH 71 between County Road 206 and State Highway 21 from 30,555 drivers in 2013 to 37,234 in 2017.

Right now, TxDOT is finalizing plans for this stretch, but it comes with a catch. For some people, like Rebecca Killingsworth, who live and make a living in the area, the new project may leave them displaced. 

Killingsworth said since she got the news about her potential move customers have asked her what she’s going to do. She owns the Town and Country Barber Shop and has been cutting hair for 29 years in Cedar Creek. Her shop’s walls are covered with memories.

“He’s in high school now,” she said pointing to a photo of her younger self with a toddler sitting in the styling chair.

Killingsworth’s shop falls within the 32.5 acres of additional right-of-way needed for TxDOT’s mobility project. This additional right-of-way may displace seven neighbors and 25 businesses.

Improvements include:

  • Constructing new frontage roads
  • Adding a bridge on SH 71 over the Farm-to-Market 1209 intersection
  • Adding shared-use paths for bicycles and pedestrians on both sides of SH 71 and FM 1209
  • Improvements to FM 1209
  • Adding turnarounds to the intersection of SH 71 and FM 1209
  • Adding a turnaround to the intersection of SH 71 and SH 21

“Well, I know that’s progress,” Killingsworth said.

Killingsworth shop is not the only thing in danger of being displaced. 

“I live right next door,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to really happen.”

She admits, she’s started looking and isn’t sure what the future holds for her or whether she’ll stay in the area. 

“I haven’t started biting my nails,” she said laughing. “But you know I am concerned, I mean how can you replace this? I am praying to the good Lord.”

In a previous interview, TxDOT’s Brad Wheelis said this project is part of a larger plan. TxDOT’s SH 71 East Corridor project consists of five intersections along the highway where overpasses will be built. 

“When we get these projects done, from Austin down to I-10, you will not have traffic signals,” Wheelis said. “It’ll be a clear shot from here and onto Houston, so it really will improve mobility heading to the east of Texas.”

He added this project will not only improve mobility but safety along the busy highway by reducing the number of crash points. 

The SH 71 and FM 1209 project is being finalized. The design should be completed by fall 2020 and the project will go out for bid in 2024. It is estimated to cost about $37.5 million and construction is expected to being summer 2024 with completion anticipated by winter 2025.

TxDOT officials said whenever they design a project, the team determines if any additional right-of-way is needed. If so, surveyors go out to determine exactly how much additional property is needed. Commercial and non-commercial property owners are identified and contacted.

Currently, TxDOT is in the middle of the surveying process and is expected to finish the process in the next few weeks. Once the surveying process is complete, TxDOT will contact independent appraisers to determine market value for each property to be acquired.

TxDOT officials added there are programs to assist those who may be displaced by a project. The programs include ongoing information about available replacement properties, financial assistance to get back into replacement housing and reimbursement of expenses necessary to move personal property. Financial assistance is available to businesses that need to relocate as well.

Tuesday night, there is a public hearing at the Bastrop Convention and Exhibit Center, 1408 Chestnut Street, Bastrop, Texas from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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