Above, a map outlining the area of State Highway 21 studied in the "corridor preservation study." Map courtesy of Hays County
Study examines safer, faster travel on Highway 21
The long range “corridor preservation study” began in February 2020 to cover a 17-mile stretch of State Highway 21 from State Highway 80 to State Highway 130.
Hays County Commissioners Court approved the start of the initial study phase of the project which was co-sponsored by Commissioners Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe, Precinct 1, and Mark Jones, Precinct 2.
“This is Hays County living up to a long-term commitment,” said Ingalsbe, the county commission’s senior member. 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?”
“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 study evaluated anticipated growth in both population and traffic volume along this corridor. That evaluation gave more insight into determining an appropriate roadway facility type that would accommodate transportation needs 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 and 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, Texas Department of Transportation 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% increase between 2014 and 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. This project began construction 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. Several bypass alternatives have been 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 Feb. 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 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.