Dec. 2019 expected completion
By LYNETTE HAALAND
Four Points News
Funding for the Steiner Ranch emergency evacuation route was unanimously approved by the Travis County Commissioners last week.
“Yes, funds ($2.7 million) for the Steiner Ranch evacuation route were approved,” said David Greear, Transportation and Natural Resources engineering division manager.
This project will provide additional options for surrounding residents responding to emergencies in the area. One anticipated use for the connection would be to provide an emergency evacuation route for Steiner residents in case the front of Steiner Ranch is cut off from RM 620. Another anticipated function would be to help spread the traffic load of a large scale evacuation event by adding an additional access point onto RM 620.
“We have to repeat… this access if for emergency events only, and will be closed and/or gated at all other times,” Greear said. “Furthermore, this will also allow the residents in Montview Acres an evacuation option over to Steiner Ranch in case the low water crossing on Fritz Hughes Park Drive is ever blocked, damaged, or washed out.”
Funds for this project include improving the existing low water crossing by raising and widening the bridge so that it does not overtop as frequently, Greear added.
“We have not determined exactly how we will connect Flat Top Ranch Road over to Montview at this time,” Greear said. The map that has been published is conceptual at this point.
Greear said this Steiner evacuation route project is one of Travis County’s highest priorities and they did not want to wait on the 2017 bond referendum. Travis County commissioners voted to use Certificates of Obligation as a new funding mechanism for priority safety projects.
There will be opportunity to voice concerns and give input on this project in the coming months, he added.
Concerned Travis County residents Deb Groom and Patrick Lublin spoke at the County Commissioners meeting last week. Both live in small neighborhoods adjacent to Steiner where the proposed road would connect.
“We are interested in the details and have some concerns about it as well,” Lublin said.
Deb Groom lives in Hidden Valley off Montview Drive does not think the currently proposed path is the best fit.
“Part of our concern is, and we started seeing it on the news instead of… getting any notices about it,” Groom said. “The details of it… haven’t been worked out, but we firmly believe that this is not a solution for an evacuation.”
“In this same section of Steiner Ranch, there are easements going straight out to 620 that do not come through our neighborhood,” Groom added. She cited easement land owned by LCRA or other utilities that would connect with RM 620 at a more northerly point.
The commissioners confirmed that details have not been completed yet on the project.
“We don’t have anything tied down until we get into the engineering of it, determining what needs to be done, We want to pick a route that will get people out as quickly as possible and as less disruptive as possible,” said Steve Manilla, county executive with Travis County Natural Resources.
Brigid Shea, Precinct 2 commissioner, also wanted more details.
“I wasn’t clear myself if this emergency evacuation route would be proposed to be a crash gate on it so that it was not a routinely used route,” Shea said.
Manilla shared more details about the proposed project.
“We did advise the folks at Steiner because they requested it, actually, that any road that we build, connect from within Steiner Ranch to get out… other than having to go through Quinlan Park Road, which is where everybody goes, and would only be used for emergency evacuation purposes,” said Manilla.
In the event of an emergency, officials would go out and unlock the gates and open them up.
“If we made it to be crash-type gate, it could be popped open with the front of their truck,” Manilla said. A gate is something that has been used in other cases to prevent non-emergency usage. If they use such a gate, the county plans to make it known through education and practice to make sure everything functions properly.
Many Steiner homeowners have been interested in an additional exit route since the 22011 Labor Day weekend wildfires forced a residential evacuation that took hours. As cars queued on the only roadway options, Steiner Ranch Boulevard or Quinlan Park Road, the blaze destroyed two-dozen homes and damaged many others.
Commissioner Gerald Daugherty moved to approve the evacuation route funding at the Feb. 28 meeting and Shea seconded the motion. Ayes were Sarah Eckhardt, Jeffrey Travillion, Shea and Daugherty. Margaret Gomez was absent.
The Travis County project manager assigned to this project is Katharine Hardin.
Now that it’s approved, design, permitting and other preliminary activity will begin in June. The anticipated construction start date is January 2019, with an expected completion date of December 2019, said Greear.