BASTROP, Texas — The Texas Department of Transportation on Tuesday broke ground on a new, $50.4 million project to improve safety and mobility along State Highway 71 in the Bastrop area.

The SH 71 at Colorado River project includes the construction of nine independent bridges, a new westbound exit ramp across the river, as well as a new eastbound entrance ramp at the Union Pacific Railroad.

The project is expected to wrap up by winter 2022, weather permitting.

TxDOT 71 groundbreaking
TxDOT

"This project is part of a larger, corridor-wide effort," said TxDOT Austin District engineer Tucker Ferguson. "About a mile east of this area, we recently opened an overpass at SH 95 that has resulted in a noticeable improvement in traffic flow and we expect this project to do the same."

SH 71 Bridge rendering
TxDOT

"As mayor, I am excited to see this enormous project underway," said Bastrop Mayor Connie Schroeder. "The frontage road bridges will positively impact each and every citizen of Bastrop by improving safety and quality of life. I encourage everyone to be patient during the construction, as the finished project will be well worth the wait."

The frontage road bridges are big pieces of this project. 

"Bastrop's really divided by the Colorado River," said Diann Hodges, a spokesperson for TxDOT. "Half of it sits on one side, half of it is on the other."

Locals there have two options to cross the river in town: the mainline bridge of SH 71 or 150 that runs by the Old Iron Bridge. 

Some residents say it's gotten difficult to access SH 71. 

"We've seen a lot of backed-up traffic this way," said Wray Rivera, who has lived near 71 for eight years, "a lot of near misses for us as well and actually witnessed some near misses as well." 

He's hoping the new frontage road bridges will help out with safety and accessibility to the other side of town. 

"It also allows local commuters two lanes of traffic in each direction to cross the Colorado without ever having to merge with main lane traffic, so you're going to see a lot of improvements in safety with that right there," said Hodges. 

TxDOT also says the two frontage road bridges could help reduce traffic on the mainline bridge. 

But this isn't the only big project. TxDOT plans to remove traffic signals on SH 71 at five locations – Ross Road, Kellam Road, Tucker Hill Lane, Pope Bend Road and FM 1209. 

The plans for the future overpasses include frontage roads.

After Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony, guests were invited to a Be Safe. Drive Smart event at the nearby Buc-ee's rest stop, featuring an interactive exhibit promoting safe and smart driving this summer.

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