AUSTIN (KXAN) — As many head back to the office, they’re searching for the fastest commute. State Highway 130 Toll is seeing an increase in traffic — but what’s interesting is the highway is seeing traffic levels surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
KXAN Traffic Anchor Amanda Dugan spoke with SH 130 CEO Doug Wilson to compare traffic levels to past years, why this is happening and how the SH 130 team is planning to tackle inevitable future congestion.
Dugan: Can you explain how the increased traffic on SH 130 compares to years past?
Wilson: One thing we’ve seen is that many roads have not gotten back to their pre-COVID levels. Our road, on the other hand, is already 26% ahead of the pre-COVID levels for the whole year of 2021, so far. But what’s really interesting — if you compare the period from the first of March to the end of October — we’re actually up 33% compared to previous years. So there was a real change that happened around the first of March.
Dugan: Why do you think this is happening?
Wilson: Freight traffic has been increasing for a steady pace now for many years. That has certainly helped our traffic. But I think the big thing we see is an overall level of economic activity and an overall level of people moving around and really sort of reengaging in their normal lives. Add to that the tremendous growth that we’re seeing in Travis and Caldwell counties. Particularly around the area of Lockhart, where there’s a new industrial park going in and a revitalization of downtown Lockhart. So, really a very, very broad-based increase in traffic that we see all across our roads.
Dugan: You touched on an increase in freight moving along, but can you also speak on the increase in traffic as we come out of the pandemic and how that’s a part of the increase too?
Wilson: Coming out of the pandemic was really interesting, I mentioned the step up in volume that we saw in the beginning in March. It was almost as if after a year of COVID and the ice storm in February, the entire region just decided it was going to get back to its normal life — and just started doing that and it really hasn’t looked back. The increase in traffic that started back in March has continued today and we expect it to continue. Add to that the fact that I-35 is obviously a very important roadway, is congested. It’s one of the most congested stretches of roadway in the country. It is undergoing construction and will continue to undergo construction for quite some time. We’re a very good alternative to I-35. We’re a wide open, free flowing roadway with a high-speed limit and people I think are discovering that this is a much better alternative. Much lower stress, the roadway itself is in tremendous shape, tremendous condition, so it’s a comfortable ride. So, I think people are just finding out about SH 130 and using it as an alternative to I-35.
Dugan: With that being said, how are you and your team looking to accommodate this increase in traffic on SH 130?
Wilson: The recent infrastructure bill that was just passed through Congress in Washington has shone a really bright light on infrastructure and how infrastructure works. SH 130 is a great example of far-sighted infrastructure. This roadway was committed to back in 2007. It was committed to with the idea that this corridor between San Antonio and Austin was going to see tremendous growth for many decades. We wanted to make sure there was a very high capacity roadway that was an alternative to I-35. That was what got put in place.
We don’t expect to see any capacity constraints for decades. But even when capacity constraints begin to occur, part of our arrangement with the State of Texas is that we are committed to expand the roadway. So, we already have the plans, we already have the rights of way and we already have the ability to step out and add lanes when we need to. So, SH 130 will continue to be a free flowing roadway for many years to come.
Dugan: You mentioned that with SH 130, there’s a lot of growth along that corridor. Specifically: Tesla factory going in. It’s a massive facility being built. Now, what role — if any — do you think that construction has played in also the increase in traffic?
Wilson: The Tesla facility is really going to change the region. It’s a marquee facility. Very technologically advanced. It will have 10,000 employees, really a huge asset to the region. The construction has been going on for some time and it’s going to be opening shortly, we believe. When it does, we are going to see additional traffic from people who commute into the facility. We would expect a number of those to live near our facility to the south where there is a tremendous amount of real estate being developed. It’s going to have these knock-on effects. We’ve seen some traffic already from the construction of the facility but we expect to see quite a lot more as the Tesla facility goes online and as their suppliers begin to build their facilities in the region.
One of the things we really believe is that SH 130 is a parallel corridor to I-35 and is really going to catalyze growth along that corridor. Whether it is residential construction whether it’s industrial construction. There are a number of parties looking to site very large facilities in the electric vehicle or battery production or semi conductor facilities. I think the prospects and the future for this region between San Antonio and Austin is bright and SH 130 is going to the backbone for that production.