Closures plague East 51st and I-35 as roundabout opening nears

4:05 p.m Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018 Local
Crews at East 51st Street and I-35 prepare Thursday for lane closures and final work over the weekend to open a roundabout that will replace the existing traffic signals. BEN WEAR/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Looking to go to East 51st Street and Interstate 35’s southbound frontage road in the next couple of days?

Don’t.

Road crews were slated to begin frantic work late Thursday evening to open a roundabout that the Texas Department of Transportation is installing where the I-35 frontage road meets 51st, and a series of closures there will make it impassible for some trips.

The southbound frontage road will be closed Thursday evening as it approaches 51st, and 51st will be closed at the frontage road. The only movement possible at that point will be for those driving west on East 51st over the I-35 overpass, and those drivers were be forced to turn south on the frontage road.

Beginning about 10 a.m. Friday, people going westbound on 51st will be allowed to keep going west, but will lose that possible left turn onto the frontage road. Eastbound 51st will remain closed at the frontage road during Friday and Saturday.

READ: Here’s the plan for East 51st and I-35

If all goes as planned — crews in several spots will have to lay down more than two feet of asphalt to fill in current gaps in the roundabout — a one-lane, very rough version of the full roundabout will open by 5 a.m. Sunday, TxDOT says. The traffic circle, in a decidedly unfinished form, will replace the traffic signals that have controlled that intersection for decades.

“If you don’t absolutely need to go through that area for the next few days, it might be best to avoid it,” said Diann Hodges, a spokeswoman for TxDOT’s Austin district.

The overall $16.5 million project, which includes construction of a southbound bypass under the 51st Street overpass and other changes to the frontage road, should be done by late spring, Hodges said. Between now and then, Hodges said, a second lane will be added to the roundabout and the center of it will be landscaped.