Tolls on Parmer Lane? Apple’s second campus fast-tracking improvements

Austin

CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — Williamson County leaders are working to fast-track improvements on Parmer Lane where an average of 43,000 people travel on the congested roadway daily from Farm to Market Road 1431 in Cedar Park to MoPac Expressway; that number is expected to go up. 

“The people who drive that road, they don’t care what county they’re in, they don’t care who fixes the road, they just want it fixed,” Cynthia Long, a county commissioner said.

Late last year, Apple announced plans to invest $1 billion for a new campus on the Robinson Ranch property on the southwest corner of Parmer Lane. and State Highway 45, just a mile north from its current campus.

“They are at the table, in part of the discussions, not just Apple but other businesses along Parmer,” Long emphasized, “Apple has been very aggressive in trying to encourage their workforce to us alternative means not necessarily commuting at peak times, different things, so we are going to be working with them.”

Part of Capital Metro’s Project Connect plan identifies Parmer Lane as a high capacity transit corridor. Discussion about a MetroRail is underway, however, CapMetro officials said: “Since it would require realigning the tracks, there is much more work and coordination required before the concept can move forward.” 

“It’s kind of preliminary to say what they may or may not bring to the table,” Long said about Apple. “We are going to be working with all the businesses along there as we cast this vision of what Parmer Lane could look like for the future.”

Upgrades were first approved in 2016 as part of the county’s long-term plans.

“What our plan shows is Parmer Lane would become what we call a controlled access corridor, which means no signals and limited on and off ramps,” Long said. “It would include some sort of managed lanes or something similar to what you have on MoPac in terms of managed lanes, potentially two of them.”

Long admitted with Apple’s announcement she want to make improvements a reality sooner than later and added the managed lanes would help with transit. “What we’re finding, especially if you think about what’s occurred on the managed lanes on MoPac, ridership on transit has dramatically increased because guess what, you can get on a bus now and you have predictable time that it takes to get downtown.”

Long said compare that to being stuck in traffic.

“So the idea that you can use that tool is really very attractive for the folks who are driving in their personal automobile as well as people who are using transit and having that managed lane or toll lane is the only way you can guarantee a certain speed,” she added.

Apple’s new 133-acre campus will accommodate 5,000 employees with the capacity to grow to 15,000.

“We knew that development was going to be happening all along that corridor and so the Apple announcement just got us moving a little bit more quickly.”

However, the idea of tolls has been met with hesitation.

“One of the reasons I take Parmer is because it doesn’t have tolls, I could go all the way to someplace else and take a toll,” Sam Robertson said. 

Robertson recently moved to Round Rock from Austin and travels on Parmer daily up to four times. 

“My preference is to get in central Austin with out paying a toll, so I take Parmer,” he said. “But it’s going to get worse, I realize it’s going to get worse, but I think we should be looking more at mass transit.”

Longtime Milwood resident Gail Smith said, “If it works, great, but I don’t know. I really don’t know if it will or not.”

It’s not an easy decision for Smith. “Do we stay? Do we move? We are still juggling it.” She has lived in the area for over three decades. 

“It was nothing out here, I felt like I was living out in the country almost,” she said. With the congestion that has developed over the years, she now tries her best to avoid rush hour traffic. 

Long will be meeting with stakeholders later this month to start the planning.

“What I am doing is kind of leading the charge to try to get local elected officials and the different entities that would be involved with either design and construction, TxDOT, CTRMA, City of Austin, Travis County, State of Texas, to try to cast the vision for the full length of the corridor,” Long said. 

With Parmer being a long stretch of road, Long wants to focus on sections of the roadway starting with FM 1431 all the way to MoPac, but eventually her goal is to loop Parmer Lane back to Travis County, something Smith has dreamed about. 

“I wish they had a big loop around Austin,” Smith laughed. 

It will be a long time before any improvements will materialize. Long said if they got all the funding they needed today, they are still looking at three to five years before they can break ground.

At present, the Texas Department of Transportation is already starting a project on Parmer Lane from FM 1431 to SH-45 to widen the section of the road to six lanes and add a shared use path and sidewalks.

That project is fully funded and they expect construction to begin in 2022.

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