By RICH KEITH
Texas Department of Transportation recently resurfaced the roadway on RM 2222, but improvements do not include the expanded left-turn lane into McNeil Drive many residents were hoping to see. However, TxDOT officials say they are designing dual left-turn lanes at McNeil Drive for some point in the future.
“We have recently placed a new roadway surface made up of permeable friction course material on RM 2222 from River Place to Loop 360,” said Kelli Reyna, TxDOT spokesperson.
This material will improve safety by allowing a portion of water to drain through the roadway surface during rain events. It will also help prevent hydroplaning and reduce the amount of water that splashes from vehicles, Reyna said.
Although the new road surface is welcomed, some wanted to see more done during this round of road construction.
“I think it’s crazy that they didn’t take the opportunity to expand the turn lane while they had the workers and the equipment already there,” said Maggie Tate, who drives to both schools from Comanche Trail area.
More left turn capabilities needed at McNeil
For years residents have been asking TxDOT to increase the length of the left-turn lane from eastbound RM 2222 into McNeil Drive. This turn is heavily used during school by motorists getting to and from Vandegrift High School and Four Points Middle School.
Other frequent users of the roadway include 3M employees, residents of two apartment complexes, one townhome complex and Austin Baptist Church officials.
Residents and school officials have identified the turn as dangerous with the short left turn lane. Traffic can back up a quarter mile at peak times. Eastbound motorists many times quickly switch lanes to the right when they see the backup, and this has caused accidents and near-misses over the years.
The same or worse traffic backups occur during events like football games at VHS’s Ed W. Monroe Stadium.
Sharon Hasting, who lives in the Colina Vista development off McNeil Drive, said “TxDOT’s unwillingness to commit the funds needed to improve access into LISD campuses off McNeil drive exacerbates an already overcrowded and slow commute for most morning travelers in this corridor.”
Hasting adds that the short turn lane and abbreviated traffic light pattern at McNeil encourages “sleepy and inexperienced teenage drivers to make unsafe decisions.”
“They (students) push the boundaries on the light at McNeil or travel to the alternate entrance at Ribelin Ranch Road, where there is no traffic light. I’ve personally witnessed several accidents and near-misses at each of these cross-streets during the past two years,” Hasting said.
History of concern
The longer left turn lane at McNeil Drive was requested by LISD and many parents four years ago in a packed cafeteria at VHS where TxDOT representatives heard of great concern about traffic into and out of the new campus.
At that time the TxDOT representatives in attendance agreed a better turn was needed urgently and they would work to install one.
“The expansion and improved turn lanes should have been planned at the time Vandegrift HS and Four Points MS were built,” said Adam Kristoff DDS of Cool Creek Dental. Kristoff drives to his River Place office from his home in Steiner Ranch.
“The extended turn lane is necessary for the safety of our children, as well as the sanity of our downtown commuters. With the increase in population here and the thriving Austin economy let’s hope (TxDOT) makes the responsible choice with our tax dollars,” Kristoff said.
Though the current construction project didn’t improve the turn lanes, Reyna acknowledges that TxDOT is aware of the problem. “We do understand the need for an additional dedicated left-turn lane to help move traffic and make the intersection more efficient,” she said.
“Currently, a project to add dual left-turn lanes at McNeil Drive is being planned and designed; however, funding for the construction project has not been secured,” said Reyna.
Last week, the McNeil turn lane was striped and it is the same length as before: about 100 feet long.
In contrast, the left turn lane into Sitio Del Rio is well over 1,000 feet long and serves only one school, River Place Elementary. In addition, the westbound direction of the left turn lane at Sitio Del Rio is not the direction most parents would use to access the school.
TxDOT’s Reyna explained that additional striping is not necessary at the location of the dedicated left-turn lane on eastbound RM 2222 at McNeil Drive because there is a continuous left-turn.
“Because these turn lanes are contiguous, traffic is allowed to store back into the continuous left-turn at this intersection; therefore, additional striping is not necessary,” Reyna said.