Construction on proposed $2.7 million project could start in early 2019
By KIM ESTES
Four Points News
A proposal funding construction of an emergency evacuation route from Steiner Ranch is scheduled for consideration Tuesday, Feb. 21 by Travis County Commissioners, said Travis Gatlin, budget director of the Travis County Planning and Budget Office.
The project creates a secondary access point from Flat Top Ranch Road to Fritz Hughes Park Road. Cost of the proposed route is $2.7 million. Additionally, the connection will not be open to everyday traffic, said David Greear, Travis County – Transportation and Natural Resources engineering division manager.
If approved as recommended by the Planning and Budget Office and the Transportation and Natural Resources office, construction could begin in less than two years, Greear said.
Steiner residents have anticipated construction of an additional evacuation route since a 2011 wildfire chased them out of the neighborhood, destroyed two-dozen houses and damaged many others.
The residential exodus took about six or seven hours, recalled Lake Travis Fire and Rescue chief, Robert Abbott.
Only two roads provide access to Steiner Ranch – Steiner Ranch Boulevard and Quinlan Park Road – with both options leading to RM 620. “Having another means of evacuation is vital,” said Abbott.
County officials agree and have put the evacuation route on a priority list for funding by means of certificates of obligation versus a bond referendum.
“Certificates of obligation are just another debt funding mechanism. The advantage of COs (certificates of obligation) is they don’t require voter approval like a bond referendum,” said Gatlin.
Greear noted, “Obtaining funding was the biggest barrier to getting the road built.”
This is important, Abbott said. “The key is to keep the road reserved for emergencies only. Over time, roads installed for emergency traffic have been adopted by the community as daily cutovers to other routes,” he said.
Emergency access roads are not substandard roads, but there are construction variations, such as width, and traffic law enforcement limitations, he said.
Also, as part of the construction project, crews will raise the low water crossing on Fritz Hughes Park Road to reduce the frequency of overtopping during storms and flooding events.
County staff members expect to officially get the project in June. Then, the design phase will begin and permits will be obtained as well as right of way approaches.
The project is expected to start construction in January 2019 with completion expected in 12 months, said Greear.
In the meantime, LTFR officials said that if an emergency developed, the situation would dictate the response. “Every incident has different variables, and when we go in we have to be able to adapt,” said assistant fire chief, Rick Tess.
“If it’s a wildfire, people should go to places like schools or parks that are surrounded by a defensible space.
“In a hazmat (hazardous material) situation, like a chlorine leak or a spill of some kind, it could be the problem is somewhere between a subdivision and the escape route. That means you stay in your home because there is no way to get out safely,” Tess said.
Regardless of the situation, Tess encourages people to remain calm and use common sense when taking immediate action while waiting for further direction from first responders.
In addition to the Steiner evacuation route, four other Travis County projects are on what is called the 2017 Debt Funded Project List. The combined cost of all the projects is $18.1 million. The other four projects are:
- Hodde Lane safety improvements, $4.5 million,
- Hamilton Pool Road Bridge replacement, $1.2 million,
- Citation Avenue buyout and drainage retrofit, $4.6 million,
- Arroyo Doble/Twin Creeks area drainage retrofit, $5.1 million.