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183A Toll Road Extension in Williamson County Safeguards the Community and the Environment

by: Julie Devine
Lane Construction Corporation crews lift a section of rebar on the 183A Toll Road Extension in Williamson County.
Lane Construction Corporation crews lift a section of rebar on the 183A Toll Road Extension in Williamson County.
For the 6.6-mile, northward extension of the 183A Toll Road in Williamson County, Texas, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority in Austin, Texas, planned for material delays, labor shortages, protection of the South Fork San Gabriel River – and dinosaur tracks.

About a quarter mile upstream from where the project crosses the river, tracks possibly made by a 15-foot-tall, 38-foot-long acrocanthosaurus remain in the limestone riverbed. With sightseers frequently visiting the site, general contractor Lane Construction Corporation of Fort Worth, Texas, needed to incorporate extra safety precautions.

The Mobility Authority awarded the project’s $175.7 million contract to Lane, the lowest responsive and responsible bidder, in September 2020. Construction began in April 2021 and the corridor is expected to open to traffic in 2025.

Financed by the sale of toll revenue bonds and a TIFIA loan, the 183A Phase III project adds onto the existing 11.6 miles of the toll road with two lanes in each direction – primarily within the existing median of the U.S. 183 corridor – and an adjacent, 10-foot-wide shared use path. Phase I of the 183A Toll Road opened in 2007 and Phase II opened in 2012.

With Williamson County’s ongoing population boom, traffic volumes along U.S. 183 are expected to increase 183 percent by 2042, driving the need for proactive congestion relief.

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“Every day there are more people needing what we’re building,” said Lloyd Chance, the Mobility Authority’s Assistant Director of Engineering - Construction.

Protecting the River and Dinosaur Seekers
In addition to crossing the South Fork San Gabriel River, the project lies within the Edwards Aquifer contributing zone. During construction, strategies to reduce stormwater runoff and pollution include sediment control fencing, a variety of rock filter dams, sediment traps, sediment basins, and rock bedding at construction exits. Permanent controls include water quality ponds, water detention ponds, buffer zones, seeding, paved flumes, and velocity control devices.

On top of those measures, throughout construction, “We have a redundant checker behind the compliance people – checkers checking the checkers – to make sure we go above and beyond in being compliant with our plan,” Chance said.

A compliance representative, construction inspector, and the contractor monitor stormwater runoff controls daily and complete a Construction Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan Inspection and Maintenance Report every seven days.

“That makes it easy for the contractor to quickly spot and address issues, including the controls that protect the river,” Chance said.

The larger-than-normal team monitoring the work also hopes to keep those seeking river adventures safe by deterring visits during construction.

“We continually have people trying to access the area,” Chance said. “On any given weekend, two to three dozen people park around that section of the project and walk up the riverbed to see the dinosaur tracks or to play or swim in the river.”

The Mobility Authority’s public information team regularly communicates warnings to park elsewhere while the area remains an active construction zone.

To maximize safety for those who don’t heed the warnings, “We look at all our erosion control items to make sure things are safe – no sharp objects, no holes left open, no drop-offs,” Chance said. “We put up orange safety fencing and built some of our environmental controls to limit vehicle access. We also placed stockpiled materials and stormwater control items in a specific layout to limit the ability to drive close to the river.”

Once the project finishes, a shared use path and pedestrian bridge will provide connection along the river. In the meantime, as Lane constructs the two bridges across the river, weather adds more challenges.

“If we have rain coming in, the contractor needs to move the crane and all the formwork out of the river, past the high-water line, to keep them from washing away,” Chance said. “That’s a nonproductive afternoon as crews stop what they’re doing, clear the area, and get ready for whatever might happen during a storm event.”

Mitigating Supply Chain Troubles
Despite the weather and other challenges, the project remains on schedule.
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To deal with material delays and the ongoing labor and trucking shortages, “Lane understands the situation and tries to mitigate it,” Chance said. “On our end, we try to build our schedules so they’re realistic and achievable. We’re not trying to get contractors done sooner than they really can based on today’s market and the availability of labor, equipment, and materials.”

For instance, “The PVC market is completely upside down right now as far as cost and availability,” Chance said. “Luckily, that goes in at the latter part of this project, so our subcontractor is working to get it clarified before we reach that point.”

To accommodate a major AT&T line relocation affected by supply chain delays, the Mobility Authority built in extra time.

“AT&T, through Dow Corning, orders all their fiber optic and copper cable cut to order,” Chance explained. “Right now, there’s nothing in the local or national yards; everything is shipped directly from the manufacturer, generally with a three- to six-month delay.”

To avoid holding up construction, “We tried to be smart about the AT&T relocation,” Chance said. “This is a 900 pair cable. It’s a major crossing and relocating it is a big deal, so we built in a contract delay for that area of the project. We asked AT&T how long it would take to relocate the line, then we said, ‘Let’s hedge our bets and give ourselves some additional time.’”

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Although they hope to give the contractor access to that area sooner, the Mobility Authority set a contractual date of February 2023 for AT&T to be out of the right-of-way.

With some of the backordered items recently arriving, “Right now our great idea is working pretty well despite the delay in materials,” Chance said.

17 Bridges and a 30-Foot Cut
To stay on schedule in building the project’s 17 bridges, the contractor employs multiple crews.

“There are easily 100 people scattered over six to eight different crews at any given time,” Chance said. “The drill shaft, cap, and column crews work in a progression chasing each other down the job. Once they get through all that, structure crews will start working on the bridge decks.”

On the north end of the project where 183A will pass under State Highway 29, crews needed to complete a 30-foot cut, 2,000 feet long and over 80 feet wide. To efficiently move that vast quantity of earth, subcontractor Ranger Excavating of Austin, Texas, brought in their Caterpillar D11T Dozer. The huge machine arrived on multiple trailers and was assembled onsite.

As it cuts and rips open the rock, “It really looks like a butter knife going through butter,” Chance said.

Throughout the corridor, the schedule is helped by the absence of traffic complications. Years ago, Williamson County and the Texas Department of Transportation moved the U.S. 183 general-purpose lanes to the edge of the right-of-way, leaving the center of the corridor open for the toll road. Before starting work on the 183A extension, the contractor placed safety barrier to separate construction from the traveling public.

“That’s one of the beauty parts of this project – we’re working down the middle and all the traffic is on the outside in its final configuration,” Chance said.

As crews complete the bridges and eventually the new mainlanes, the project will use more than 230,000 tons of concrete, as well as over 21,000 tons of asphalt paving to overlay the existing roadway.

Through all the work, “Utilizing open, transparent, and frequent communication – both internal to the project and with our neighboring community – will continue to be a key factor in the success of the project,” said Robert Krupa, Project Manager for Atkins of Austin, Texas, the firm providing general engineering consulting oversight.

Key Project Personnel
  • Owner – Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, Austin, Texas; Mike Sexton, Acting Director of Engineering; Lloyd Chance, Assistant Director of Engineering - Construction
  • General Engineering Consulting Oversight – Atkins, Austin, Texas; Robert Krupa, Project Manager
  • Construction Engineering and Inspection – RS&H, Austin, Texas; Cris Peña, Project Manager
  • Contractor – Lane Construction Corporation, Fort Worth, Texas; Jamie Cannon, Senior Project Manager

Photos courtesy of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority

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