By RICH KEITH, Four Points News
Texas Department of Transportation executed a “change order” on the RM 620 dual right-turn lane contract after it was approved for construction, a change which shortens the lanes by nearly half their approved length.
Local businesses at the intersection interceded with TxDOT, and asked for and were granted a change order to shorten the turn lanes. They requested the turn lanes begin after their driveway, according to TxDOT.
“Our preliminary plan was to extend the right-turn lanes past the Walgreen’s driveway in order to provide additional capacity during certain peak periods,” said Christopher Bishop, TxDOT spokesperson.
“To accommodate this additional turn lane, we were also prepared to modify the business park’s full access driveway to a restricted right-in/right-out type access,” Bishop said.
Brian Thompto of the Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association reviewed the TxDOT plans with Carlos Lopez and John Wagner of TxDOT in 2012. The project was later successfully bid at $781,980 in 2013 by Aaron Concrete Contractors, L.P.
“The turn lane project we were shown had two full double lanes of 1,077-foot length, going through the Walgreen’s entrance area and tapered out south of the next entrance to the south, at the Kolache factory,” Thompto said of the preliminary plans.
The concrete curbs now being built to provide double right turn lanes on northbound RM 620 onto RM 2222 do not match the schematics reviewed by Thompto. “The curb being built does not begin the turn lanes until north of the Walgreens entrance – a significant difference,” Thompto said.
TxDOT’s Bishop said, “Once we reached out to the property owner, it was quite clear that this modification to their access would have a detrimental impact to the businesses served by this access.”
“In order to provide a safe movement of traffic and balance the economic vitality of the business park, TxDOT agreed to modify the right-turn design,” Bishop said.
“Very disappointing,” said Pam Waggoner, Leander ISD President and chair of the Four Points Traffic Committee. “Just another slap in the face to residents in the County that do not get a vote on the services we receive.”
Longer wait times expected
According to Thompto, who has studied the intersection extensively, this change diminishes the planned queuing capacity increase.
“The changed lanes retain the current restrictions for when traffic is able to divert from the right lane of traffic into expanded lanes,” said Thompto. This means traffic will back up almost as far as it does today because cars cannot get into the new right turn lanes until rather close to the traffic signal, the same problem as is seen today.
In a message to TxDOT, Thompto said, “As you know we already were concerned that the originally planned access to the right lane queuing was not far enough south to be effective – this change appears to exacerbate this concern.” The message went unanswered as did attempts to get TxDOT to re-evaluate the project in light of previously-approved traffic conditions, according to Thompto.
The botched turn lanes are “another reason to build the road behind Vandegrift High School and Four Points Middle School,” LISD’s Waggoner said. “This would allow school traffic to go straight through the traffic signals at RM 620 instead of turning onto RM 2222,” she explained.
For drivers looking to circumvent the intersection, a new road project will begin soon on an alternate route. TxDOT has awarded a contract to completely resurface RM 2769, known as Volente Road, from Volente to its intersection with Anderson Mill Road.
Mixed reaction about the lanes
TxDOT’s Bishop said the added lanes will still be an improvement to the intersection.
“Even with the modification, the dual left turn lanes offer twice as much storage as before, and twice the turning capacity onto RM 2222,” Bishop said.
But that’s not good enough for some local drivers. “It is bizarre that so much design and thought is put into a roadway improvement project, and yet it took almost nothing to alter the plans in a drastic manner, and with no community input,” said a Marshall Ford resident who declined to give her name.
TxDOT’s Bishop said, “We will continue to monitor the intersection and make adjustments as required in order to enhance safety and improve mobility for all users of this roadway.”
A sidewalk and bike lane is being added to RM 620. It is not known how these elements will be affected by the reduced length of the turn lanes.
TxDOT’s change process does not involve drivers
Repeated requests for information on which property owners demanded construction changes, and why no public hearings were offered or notices given, went unanswered by TxDOT.
According to TxDOT’s website, their process for processing a change order request do not appear to involve any public hearings, or include any contact with drivers of a given roadway.
Instead, TxDOT regulations appear to favor protecting the expenses of the contractor, the finances of the department, and timeliness and environmental concerns.
“This must be considered a waste of money since it does not appear to improve anything,” said Leander ISD’s Waggoner.