SRNA May Board Meeting - RM620 Mobility and Safety Update from Call to Action

SRNA May Board Meeting – RM620 Mobility and Safety Update from Call to Action

Meeting Agenda and Summary:

Attendees: about 25 residents attended.
Special guests: Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea, Texas State Representative Paul Workman
SRNA Board members: Brian Thompto (chair), H. Lobdell, Rick Rivera.
William Farrel, Greg Milligan were both out of town.

Agenda items (in agenda order), actual order was: public-comment + #4 (since related to public comments), #1, #2, #3.

  1. RM620 Safety – recap update from April Board and any new updates
    Reference TXDOT letter from April 5 via Rep. Workman in response to SRNA summary from March 20 meeting letter   (see Meeting Summary post HERE)

    1. Re-texturize of RM620 scheduled for May/June (drain water much better and better traction); this was already in plan but delayed due to cold weather. Note a local retexture was done near accident sights quickly after accidents in March, but this full re-texture will make a bigger difference using advanced pavement.
    2. Barriers between directions of traffic
      1. FM2222 Ribelin Ranch Rd to RM620: confirmed as already part of bypass project.
      2. RM620 Steiner Ranch Blvd. to bypass: TXDOT agreed to pursue barriers as part of the bypass project after March meeting due to lanes being closer after bypass re-stripping.
      3. Additional barriers on RM620 including dam to Quinlan, and other parts of RM620 will be studied by TXDOT as part of short term mitigations for safety/mobility on RM620 starting promptly via contractor. Results expected within six months as confirmed at meetings between TXDOT, officials and neighborhoods last week. The reason studying is needed is because barriers can be hazards in areas where breaks for access (such as left turns) are required: they can be deadly in the event of a head on crash and issues such as line-of-sight and spacing must be considered. Note that even if concrete or chain barriers are not possible yellow pylons may be a viable option – e.g. as they currently serve as visual reminders for distracted drivers. Also note that TXDOT will be looking across RM620 for safety mitigation options, not just near Mansfield Dam. Even though this area received recent attention due to a series of crashes, over the recent years many of the crashes that involved roll-overs and head-on collision occurred north of RM2222 and also along RM2222.
    3. Some discussion on driving behavior as a major contributor to crashes was noted by those in attendance, re-capping statements made by safety officials at the  March 20 board meeting that many/most serious crashes involve issue like speeding and distracted driving. SRNA Board chair B. Thompto suggested there is some opportunity to curb behaviors within our own community if we choose to make that a priority. This is something SRNA would be happy to pursue as an important priority with support from interested parties; e.g. form a committee and take the lead.
  1. CAMPO / TXDOT RM-620 funding / mobility fixes / next steps for RM620 big fixes
    1. Quite a bit of discussion was had allowing for residents to question Commissioner Shea and Rep. Workman directly regarding why we did not get the next round of RM620 fixes into this last CAMPO cycle. This included questions on why this was not done earlier and what has been done for our area. Many statements were made so I’m sure I only captured a portion. For the benefit of those not in attendance I tried to capture some of the responses from our elected representatives.
      • Rep. Workman clarified that he does not bring projects to CAMPO but ultimately TXDOT (usually with partner funding) brings projects to CAMPO.
      • Commissioner Shea and Rep. Workman clarified that they were both strong proponents of the RM620/RM2222 bypass project which was funded in 2016 and that the bypass we relayed to them as the big fix for north RM620 by TXDOT.
      • Commissioner Shea indicated that she was not aware that TXDOT was bringing forward the southern RM620 project in this project cycle due to the “blind submission” nature of the process until the project call was over.
      • Rep. Workman indicated that Lakeway and Bee Caves has planned partnering with TXDOT to bring improvements to south RM620 for many years before that project became a reality and got funded this week.
      • Commissioner Shea pointed out that she has sponsored a number of projects specifically for our area based on neighborhood requests (many from SRNA, etc) in recent years using Travis County and Precinct #2 funds including the light put in for safe lefts in and out at Steiner Ranch Blvd and RM620, including the evacuation route from Steiner Ranch (see discussion below from public comments), and including the pedestrian crossing near Steiner Ranch Elementary as well as the new pedestrian crossing requested by Tom Henry’s daughter’s during the Travis County Bond process last summer near Grimes Ranch Rd. on Steiner Ranch Blvd. which will be going in soon.
    2. Process required to fund a big roadway project: A. identify problem. B. identify solution. C. political support (can precede B). D. project defined based on solution including costs. E. fund project F. environment G. construction.
    3. Big picture net view of where we are on RM620:
      1. 2222 was original top priority.
        1. Project consultant hired by TXDOT in 2013 to identify solution (after significant petitioning by SRNA during 2012/2013)
        2. Problem scope presented to community in 2014. Funding was secured in 2016 including support from City of Austin Bond and TXDOT money.
        3. Construction starts 2018, finish in 2020 – expected by TXDOT to provided major relief to RM620 / RM2222 especially morning traffic toward city.
      2. TXDOT agreed to study RM620 in 2014 to create next round of plans beyond bypass including both north and south RM620 after working w/ stakeholders across RM620 including Commissioner Daughterty, Rep. Workman, Lake Travis Chamber, Lake Travis ISD, Lakeway, Bee Caves, SRNA and the West Austin Chamber.
        1. Even prior to study (~2014) Lakeway and Bee Caves were eager to get a project going on south RM620 to follow the progress in the north section for the bypass and worked on a partner funding approach.
      3. TXDOT released the RM620 corridor study result with solutions in February 2017 shortly after presenting at SRNA meeting in January 2017.
        1. The net of the study showed: Even after construction of bypass (in 2020) there will be major backups along RM620 including at Anderson Mill and even at RM2222,  in addition to near Lake Travis High School in the south section.
        2. Solutions were identified including change from 4 lanes to 6 lanes with divided median (so-called “mid-term fix”) along most of the corridor. Also requiring an additional 4 express lanes in the northern segment from US183 through RM2222 (and may also require taking express lanes over River Place Blvd) (so-called “long-term fix”).
      4. TXDOT proceeded with planning southern RM620 and brought to CAMPO funding call published for feedback in March 2018.
      5. March 2018 SRNA contacted TXDOT to determine state of progress toward funding of RM620 north. According to TXDOT, the southern section was prioritized in part due to partner funding based prioritization and in part due to relative simplicity of southern RM620 vs. northern RM620 which requires significant right-of-way acquisition between Anderson Mill Rd. and US183. Subsequently, SRNA pursued a public engagement campaign and CAMPO call to action to ensure that the needs of RM620 north would be recognized and supported. This campaign was conducted with partners in River Place, Canyon Creek and the West Austin Chamber of Commerce along with other partners along the RM620 corridor.
      6. The petition for RM620 north action was brought to the April CAMPO policy board meeting with the backdrop of the ramp up of public awareness and input already begun. The result of the meeting was a show of support from officials including Commissioner Brigid Shea, Councilman Jimmy Flanningan in attendance as well as Representative Paul Workman and others for forming a working group to look at how to fund RM620 north. In parallel,  TXDOT prioritized the RM620 north project formation investigation and pulled together working meetings for coordination of improvements during the week of April 30 with elected officials and neighborhood representation.
      7. After successful meetings with officials last week, RM620 north is now the next priority for TXDOT. The following is a summary of goals as presented by SRNA chairman Brian Thompto at the May 7 CAMPO policy board meeting. A key to all of this will be build on the initiative shown by our elected officials in the last last weeks by driving this project forward with full ownership so that we ensure these objectives for this project are achieved. You can read the full letter to officials and stakeholders here.
        • At this point, the group of local owners (Travis County, City of Austin, City of Cedar Park, Williamson County) plus TXDOT and State officials have the potential to deliver on the following expectations:
          1. TXDOT is moving urgently to identify the costs associated with the big fix options and will enable a consensus decision on the long term solutions (e.g. 10 lanes total with elevated sections, or alternatives). At that point we will have a full menu of both project scope options and costs. Understanding that these projects are years away, we will need local entities and TXDOT to decide on an aggressive pipeline of projects (likely two to three big projects) that complete the ultimate build-out of RM620 north.
          2. Note that TXDOT will also pursue smaller scale short term fixes as part of its efforts including mitigations for safety.
          3. Local owners must align on a partner funding approach for the big fixes – this should not wait for step 1 due to the urgency in getting these fixes solidified and funded. That may mean getting into the already scheduled city bond, or if that mean coming up with non-bond money; these aspects of the partner funding vehicle should be looked at now particularly for the City of Austin, Travis County and the City of Cedar Park.
          4. At least the the first big step to address RM620 congestion should be planned with urgency and should be ready at or before the next possible CAMPO funding call. – which I understand to be in 18 months or less. This should be a major improvement including for example: alleviating congestion at and around Anderson Mill Rd. and RM620 and/or widening to 6 lanes with divided medians on the corridor, etc. The scope will depend on the vision set forth in step 1, but the key is that this project and funding be identified with urgency along with any follow-up projects.
        • Note: The full project cost estimate for RM620 north projects including the expanded lanes, separation and express lanes is over $400 million. This is more than the entire budget for the latest CAMPO funding call and likely much larger than the next CAMPO funding call (in 18 months) estimated to be on the order of $150 million. For that reason it is unlikely we get everything funded in 18 months by CAMPO, but that doesn’t mean we should not try. At the meeting last night, Commissioner Brigid Shea after conferring with Representative Paul Workman suggested that TXDOT does have access to other funds and that we should petition with the Transportation Commission for aggressive funding of these improvements. We will take this action forward in addition to staying abreast of the working group’s progress in coming months.
        • Note: at the May 7 CAMPO policy board meeting it was shared that 94% of CAMPO input was for improvements for RM620. While we may have set records for a funding call input the total number of comments received on RM620 was 225 total. SRNA Chairman Brian Thompto expressed that while the community did muster a critical showing to reflect the pain felt by everyone on the RM620 corridor, the number of participants from our area and across RM620 was relatively low compared with our population: We should plan to do much better the next time around. That means that we all need to take responsibility to take part in the democratic process by providing our input and encouraging others to do so.
  1. Community meeting and service call (Board of directors and committee formation) – we are planning a “community wide meeting” to level set on all these issues in our community and to identify key areas for future neighborhood association focus in June with elected officials and other leaders such as from TXDOT. We will need your help to reach our full potential. Please consider spear-heading a neighborhood initiative, join us to drive an issue you are passionate about and/or join our SRNA Board. Nominations will be open in June and we encourage interested parties to consider this rewarding service to your community. Look forward to seeing you in June and at future SRNA Board meetings.
  2. MU-14 updates – Update will be given to HOA’s regarding very rough estimate for costs on MU-14. The land cost estimate has more than doubled since discussions on purchase in 2014/5 due to opportunity cost of developer, etc. The HOA boards will need to decide if they want to take an aggressive stand on funding a buy-out. Independently, SRNA is working to ensure the developer understands MU-14 traffic issues and concerns.

Public comment / questions (other than agenda items) were taken and discussed before the scheduled agenda. Notes as follows:

  • Public comment included questions related to ability to curb development and question on if being annexed would be advantageous to having a stronger voice/ backing on issues like traffic improvements. SRNA chair B. Thompto provided responses with lively discussion.
    • Land use in Steiner is governed by City of Austin land use agreement: see COA Steiner Dev Agreement dating from negotiations in late 1990’s and signed in 2001. Development rights were set out from the beginning and do not generally allow for curtailment of development with Steiner. Not many rights in general in the ETJ (like Steiner) where county has limited powers to restrict land use. Exception was MU-14 access road which required exemption at county and was waived administratively behind closed doors while Bruce Todd was commissioner. Outside of Steiner there are portions of RM-620 within the city limits, in particular north of RM2222 – this area is under city of Austin development authority and encourage those who want to get involved to contact the Four Points Task Force working with Councilman Jimmy Flanningan and co-sponsored by the West Austin Chamber of Commerce. Question was asked if Rep. Workman can give county more rights: answer summary was: this is not at all likely to pass legislature as legislature has favored land owners rights.
    • Annexation by the City of Austin (it would be Austin not Lakeway since we are in Austin ETJ) would need to be weighed carefully to look at costs and benefits. High level we would likely have higher taxes, higher energy bills due to rate structure but traded off against direct city representation. Of note was that an annexation rights bill was passed in the recent legislature providing the Steiner area with actual rights, especially the right to vote on annexation. This gives us leverage to negotiate in the event the City wants to annex us (vs. city forcing annexation with no leverage for our area to get fair treatment). Rep. Workman who helped support this legislation spoke to this matter.
    • Evacuation we discussed quite a bit, there is a plan for evacuation which is far more advanced than what was implemented in the 2011 fires (see here). There is also a new exit point that was paid for and is being re-evaluted by a consultant at the county prior to implementation to connect Flat Top Ranch Rd w/ Low Water Crossing Rd. – this will help in the event that Quinlan Park Rd. and Steiner Ranch Blvd intersection or Low Water Crossing Rd. become in-passable. SRNA agrees with the concern expressed about a lack of broad understanding for the fire evacuation plan in Steiner and asked consultant for County to address communication strategy.
    • Note that Commissioner Shea highlighted that they have piloted an evacuation drill in Commanche Trail neighborhood recently and this could be deployed more widely once the pilot program is done.
    • It was also noted that Nathasha Coleman who has run the Steiner Ranch Firewise since it was formed in late 2011 will be retiring from that post. She will need help replacing the committee to keep things working.
    • This discussion while interesting to a number in attendance was beyond the scope of the original agenda items so we rolled forward.