Highway study aims to make SH 21 travel safer & faster

Release from Hays County

HAYS COUNTY — The long range “corridor preservation study” on a 17-mile stretch of State Highway 21 (SH 21) from State Highway 80 to State Highway 130 began in February 2020, after the Hays County Commissioners Court approved the start of the initial study phase of the project co-sponsored by commissioners Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe and Mark Jones.

“This is Hays County living up to a long-term commitment,” Ingalsbe said. Her district stretches from the south and east sides of San Marcos through Uhland and the east side of Kyle, along the Hays-Caldwell County line, with SH 21 as the boundary.

“We’ve made a number of improvements to SH 21 over the years,” she said. “Now we’re looking at the long-term and the big picture. How will this road meet the demands of the future and the growth we know is likely to continue?”

Jones agreed.

“We’re one of the state’s fastest growing counties,” said Jones, whose precinct includes Uhland, Niederwald, Buda and parts of Kyle. “We’re seeing very rapid growth along SH 21, and even more growth planned. SH 21 is also a major route for car and truck traffic passing through our region. We have to think ahead to make this road safe and keep traffic moving.”

During the first phase of the project, the anticipated population and traffic growth along this corridor was evaluated to assist in the determination of the appropriate roadway facility type to accommodate the needs of the travelling public in 2040 and beyond. In addition to the anticipated regional growth, the engineers also considered needed safety improvements, vehicular mobility needs, environmental constraints, existing buildings, historic sites, business and school-bus patterns, pedestrian and cyclist safety.

The project team conducted multiple meetings with stakeholders along the corridor such as the San Marcos Airport, City of San Marcos, City of Uhland, City of Niederwald, Hays CISD, TxDOT and Caldwell County. Two town hall events were also conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participation in the virtual town halls exceeded expectations with 2,150 participants.

During the virtual town hall events, participants were able to provide feedback to the county within the virtual town hall presentation, by email or phone as well as through an interactive mapping tool.

The project team determined that the traffic volumes along this segment of SH 21 are anticipated to more than double by 2040. An investigation into the crash history for the corridor found there has been a 68 percent increase over the prior five years (2014-2019). This is only expected to increase unless significant improvements are made.

TxDOT has taken the first step to improve safety by beginning construction of interim improvements known as a “Super 2” which adds passing lanes and turning lanes at select locations along the corridor. Construction on this project began during the summer of 2020 and completion is anticipated in late 2021.

To address capacity, access, and safety needs of the corridor in 2040 and beyond, the project team determined that a freeway section with frontage roads provided the best solution to address the long-term needs. However, the full freeway section is not needed immediately and could be phased over a period of several years.

Based on the projected traffic operations, population and traffic growth as well as the safety concerns associated with the differential speeds between through traffic and vehicles entering/exiting the facility from the numerous driveways located along the corridor, the project team recommends right-of-way be acquired for the future expansion of SH 21 to a full freeway section with frontage roads. Construction of the proposed improvements would be phased in over time as traffic volumes increase.

The right-of-way width for a freeway facility is significantly greater than the current two-lane roadway that exists now. Expanding the facility through the cities of Uhland and Niederwald would have a significant impact on residences and businesses located immediately adjacent to the existing highway. Therefore, several bypass alternatives were developed and evaluated.

The advantages and disadvantages of each of these alternatives were summarized in a final recommendation report presented to the Hays County Commissioner’s Court on February 23, 2021. For more detailed information on the project, please refer to the Hays County project website at https://hayscountytx.com/sh-21-corridor-preservation-project-update or you may visit website for the original virtual town halls at sh21corridor.com.

Although a high-level evaluation of the various Uhland and Niederwald bypass alternatives were performed, a preferred alignment or alternative has not been selected. Additional analysis will be performed during the next phase of the project in conjunction with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) once additional funding is available. During the following phase, technical criteria will be defined to analyze the alternatives more thoroughly and additional stakeholder outreach and public involvement will be performed as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

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Megan Navarro (Wehring) graduated from Texas State University in May 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication. In June 2020, she started a summer internship at the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch through the Dow Jones News Fund and Texas Press Association. She then earned her way to a reporter position later that summer and now, she serves as the editor of the newspaper. Working for a small publication, Navarro wears multiple hats. She has various responsibilities including managing a team of reporters, making editorial decisions, overseeing social media posts, fact checking, writing her own articles and more. Navarro has a heart for storytelling and she believes that journalists are equipped to share the stories that are important to the community.

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