A new segment of Toll 49 officially opened to traffic Friday, providing residents with potentially faster commutes.
Construction began in 2009 on the 5.9-mile segment that connects Toll 49 at Texas 155 in Noonday with Texas 31 between Tyler and Chandler, TxDOT officials said in a news release. The $38 million project was funded through some traditional state highway funds, funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and local partnerships.
Smith County Judge Joel Baker, who serves on the Tyler Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee, called the ribbon-cutting “a great day in Smith County and for East Texas and the entire region.” He also thanked the “unsung heroes in our community” who began the Toll 49 vision years ago as well as others who've been involved with the project.
“I, with a lot of East Texans, look forward to driving this beautiful drive connecting us from 155 to Highway 31, and I look forward to another great opening in the spring where we can drive all the way from Whitehouse to I-20 pretty quickly,” Baker said. “It is a great day and a great celebration for Smith County.”
Mayor Barbara Bass echoed the sentiments, saying, “Today is an exciting day for East Texas and for everyone who has the opportunity to travel through this area. I've been privileged to see all of the segments of Loop 49 open and look forward to that piece in the spring that will get us all the way to Interstate 20.”
More than 15 years ago, Mayor Bass said she was asked to speak to the Texas Transportation Commission as a representative from Tyler. She said she heard other communities with a story of, “If you build it, they will come,” but her message was “We have already built it. They are already here. We need a way to get them around this town.”
Throughout the years, TxDOT has supported the city's efforts, and various groups have come together to bring a tremendous result, she said.
“What is good for Tyler, Lindale, Noonday and this East Texas area is good for Texas,” Mayor Bass said.
“I knew when we built the first segment, we were on our way, and today is another step,” he said, adding that March 2 is now the tentative date for the next section to open. “We're going to finally get to I-20. Today is a great day, but that day will be a day to be remembered.”
There is no charge for Segment 3A until Dec. 3.
Therefore, Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin III encouraged the public to “drive it and see how much time it can save.” When charges take effect for that section, it will cost $1.55 to drive from Texas 110 to Texas 31.
TxDOT officials also encourage the public to use caution on Segment 3A in the coming weeks as final work is completed.
“This is a choice for economic development, to help improve air quality and move traffic in and around congested area, so we're really excited about what's happening,” Austin said.
Segment 3A is the latest section of Toll 49 to open.
Segment 5, which runs between Texas 110 and Farm-to-Market Road 756 (Paluxy Drive), opened to traffic in late June. As part of that opening, new traffic signals were activated at Toll 49 and Texas 110 north of Whitehouse and at Farm-to-Market Road 2964 (Rhones Quarter Road).
The two-mile segment, along with Segment 1 and 2, which have been in operation, connects Texas 155 to Texas 110. Together, the projects, including Segment 3A, stretch more than 16 miles and connect Chandler to Whitehouse.
Segment 4 of Toll 49, also known as the Lindale Reliever Route, would connect U.S. Highway 69 in Lindale to Interstate 20, according to a news release. TxDOT officials said planning is under way.
Austin said planning also is under way to take Toll 49 to the east side of Tyler near U.S. Highway 271, using the highway as a conduit. Ultimately, the project is expected to go over to Harrison County.
“It is a regional project, and it will bring regional solutions to improve the traffic safety and mobility because it's all about economic development,” Austin said. “As we look at retaining jobs throughout the state, there are challenges, but local solutions make this happen.”
East Texans can purchase a TxTAG this week at the Tyler area office at Toll 49 and Texas 155, Austin said. TxTAGs will be sold between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and between 8 a.m. and noon Thursday.
Austin said people with more than one vehicle can set up a fleet account for their company or household.
TxTAGs also can be purchased by calling 1-888-Go-TxTAG or by logging on to www.txtag.org.
Staff Writer Adam Russell contributed to this report.