By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
Traffic delays are bad in Four Points — especially last week with back-to-school traffic and reports of massive delays. The Texas Department of Transportation is making progress in its efforts to help alleviate congestion along RM 620 and RM 2222.
A dual left turn lane from RM 2222 onto McNeil Drive is expected to go out for bid by February and be completed a year from now. Additionally, TxDOT is in negotiations to hire a consultant for a proposed bypass road, which years from now could increase traffic flow and reduce delays by 65 percent in Four Points, said Greg Malatek, district engineer for TxDOT’s Austin District, which comprises of 11 counties.
Malatek gave these updates on August 21 at the Four Points Chamber of Commerce luncheon at River Place Country Club.
Traffic has been building steadily in Four Points over the past several years. Home and apartment construction in Steiner Ranch, River Place and Grandview Hills has added to the volume as well as increased traffic going through Four Points from Lakeway, Cedar Park and Volente.
Much traffic from the Cedar Park direction is “cutting through” to River Place Boulevard from Four Points Drive, Malatek said.
Last summer, TxDOT came up with “quick fixes” with the dual-right turn lanes at RM 620 northbound onto RM 2222, and with tweaking signal timings at major intersections in Four Points.
“These helped alleviate, not fix (the problems),” Malatek said. TxDOT scoped out bigger fixes and looked at other options with HDR Engineering Inc., which it hired last year. Rashed Islam, vice president at HDR, took the lead on the project and he was at the recent Aug. 21 presentation.
“(Bigger fixes are not) as easy as buying businesses and adding lanes, and the school district knows you can’t just build a new road,” Malatek said.
HDR Engineering was engaged to created plans and models to “make meaningful changes,” Malatek said.
Dual-left at McNeil
One of those changes is the proposed dual-left turn lanes at McNeil Drive. It is another relatively quick fix, Malatek said.
“I feel like we have the funding for that,” Malatek said. They do not need right of way or utility adjustments and there is are no environmental issues. Additionally the plans would use the existing footprint, he said.
The goal would be around February to release the plan for bidding and by May begin construction to have it open by August 2015, before school starts next year, Malatek said.
At the same time TxDOT is working on the dual-left, a proposed connector road is in the early development stage. This would draw more traffic away from the problematically congested intersection of RM 620 and RM 2222, Malatek said.
A proposed connector road would have Steiner Ranch and Lakeway traffic bypass the RM 620 and RM 2222 intersection.
This bypass from RM 620 to RM 2222 would start near the High Pointe Shopping Village sign and run adjacent to the power lines and emerge east of Cooke’s Automotive. There would be added traffic signals at both spots.
Two additional lanes would be added onto RM 2222, one in each direction feeding this new connector road. These added lanes would go through McNeil Drive and start/stop at the top of Tumbleweed Hill.
“This moves traffic through these areas, and through traffic will not have to stop,” Malatek said. “(The additional lanes) don’t have to carry down Tumbleweed Hill, where right of way and environmental (could pose as issues.)”
Consultant for connector
TxDOT is getting a consultant on board, getting the public involved and working on potential environmental issues.
“We are currently negotiating a work authorization with Kennedy Consulting (KCI) and we anticipate having them on board to start work within a month,” said Kelli Reyna, TxDOT public information officer.
“The scope of their work includes planning, so they will help us with developing a schematic, environmental work, and public involvement,” Reyna said.
TxDOT expects this to be about a two-year process and they will have public meetings about the project as it progresses, she said.
TxDOT does not know when a connector road could be built.
“No date has been set at this time, but with the work from KCI, an estimate will be developed and TxDOT will reach out to local entities for participation in the project,” Reyna said.
Potential connector results
“This (connector road) would handle all of the demand and gain significant delays in reduction,” Malatek said.
Based on historic trends and proposed traffic in 2020, the models show that the proposed connector road is projected to have 65 percent reduction in delays, Malatek said.
The new CVS to be built at the RM 620 and Bullick Hollow Road intersection does not appear to affect the traffic situation, Malatek said.
River Place will also still have traffic at the peak times.
“It’s time to figure out how we’re going to do this,” Malatek said.
“Right now, we don’t have funding for that (the proposed bypass),” Malatek said.
“My goal is to have the project on the shelf and ready to go,” Malatek said. This is so when funding is approved, the project bidding process can begin.
“The connector roadway will need local funding. We still need to have these discussions with local entities once a cost estimate is developed,” Reyna said. “As with all projects, we seek funds from multiple sources and will do so with this project, as well.”
Most TxDOT projects have federal funding tied to it. This proposal does not yet. So far TxDOT is in the early stages of working with the City of Austin, Travis County, and possibly the school district to earmark money for this project.
Public involvement and citizen input is an important part of TxDOT’s mission to work with others to provide safe and reliable transportation solutions for Texas, Reyna said.
“In an effort to be more effective in our public involvement efforts, leaders in the Austin District decided to hire an individual to help solicit and encourage proactive public involvement that could be integrated into the transportation planning process and incorporated into various planning activities,” Reyna said.
Bruce Byron, public involvement lead, was hired in August 2013 to serve this role.