While the expansion of State Highway 21 is expected to begin this summer, local residents feel the project might be too little, too late.
The estimated $17 million project, spearheaded by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), calls for adding a significant number of passing lanes to alleviate gridlock.
According to a TxDOT statement, the average daily traffic on SH 21 is predicted to increase by 39 percent from 2017 to 2037.
Additionally, TxDOT is looking to add eight-foot shoulders on SH 21, predominantly on the Hays County side. But the biggest change to the highway is the addition of seven east and westbound alternating passing lanes that would be a mile to two miles in length.
But for some longtime residents along SH 21, the proposed passing lanes will not be enough.
Hays County resident Arlene Smith can hear 18-wheelers speeding along SH 21 from her house. The trucks have become more of a common presence on the highway as San Marcos and Bastrop continue to grow.
At first, the constant bustle and noise were annoying, but Smith’s worries heightened when she started noticing a safety issue.
“There was a fifth of the traffic in 1985 compared to how it is now,” Smith said. “I’ve had cars drive straight through my fence on multiple occasions since I’ve lived here. Adding passing lanes is great, but we desperately need turning lanes. The project doesn’t address cars turning left to oncoming traffic.”
Smith and her friend Jinny Larvin attended TxDOT’s SH 21 public workshop hosted at Simon Middle School in hopes to learn more about the project. Multiple citizens who attended the meeting liked the idea of adding passing lanes to sooth traffic concerns but cited their concern about a lack of turning lanes on the highway.
In the 1990s, Larvin said a family crashed off the highway and into her property. There were no survivors from that incident.
“Every time I approach my home to turn left, I say a little prayer,” Larvin said, laughing. “I slowly ease my brakes so the people behind me know to stop in time. It’s just part of living here.”
But even without the addition of turning lanes, TxDOT officials believe the alternating passing lanes will help ease the flow of traffic and provide a safer route to Bastrop. TxDOT Public Information Officer Chris Bishop said he remembers discussions about improving the highway in the late1990s. What was once a vision is now turning to reality.
Bishop said the project could start later this year, but is dependent on environmental clearances from the state and allocation of funds.
For now, residents like Smith and Larvin will patiently wait in anticipation of the construction.
On Friday nights, both women said SH 21 is bumper to bumper, presumably because of the traffic going towards College Station, something they believe is due to students traveling to and from Texas A&M University.