Closures set to begin at 51st St. for new roundabout about to open

Closures are set to start Thursday night at 9 for a new roundabout at 51st St and I-35 frontage road. (Photo: CBS Austin)

A new roundabout is coming to a big intersection in Austin as closures start Thursday night.

TxDOT has been working on the 51st St construction project for several months, and it’s about ready to open a new roundabout at the 51st and I-35 intersection.

At 9 p.m. Thursday the southbound frontage road to the intersection will close. I-35 traffic will only be able to use the new detour under 51st. No traffic on 51st will be able to go east or west through the intersection, but west bound traffic will be able to turn left onto the frontage road.

West bound traffic will be able to go through the intersection Friday before TxDOT opens everything back up Sunday morning at 5 a.m. That’s when one lane in the new roundabout will be open.

“I know that it looks like there’s a lot of work to be done in the next four days,” TxDOT’s Diann Hodges said. “But we are going to build that up and then you will be able to enter and actually use that roundabout Sunday morning.”

Hodges say they’re excited to open up this new roundabout, but they know drivers in the area aren’t use to this system. So they’ll have officers at the roundabout to help direct traffic.

“To ensure that people can safely enter and exit without a whole lot of confusion,” Hodges said.

People nearby aren’t too sure about the roundabouts. Owner of Violet Crown Realty JoAnne Nabors said this intersection may be too big to introduce roundabouts to drivers.

“They won’t be familiar with the rules,” Nabors said.

“Instead of having a green light, now you’re slowing down. Every single car has to slow down to figure out how to feed in into the traffic circle,” she said.

Nabors said it could help I-35 southbound traffic, but she doesn’t think it’ll help local traffic on 51st Street. She’s not really against the new roundabout and says there are things she likes.

“The biggest thing I love about this is the improved safety crossing I-35 for bikers,” Nabors said.

Hodges said this roundabout will help the intersection. She cited studies that show roundabouts increase traffic capacity by up to 50 percent, and can reduce fatal crashes by up to 90 percent.

Eventually the roundabout will have two lanes, but Hodges said they’ll start with one lane and may not open up the second for several weeks.

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