By LESLEE BASSMAN, Four Points News
Although Morgan Briscoe said she has always been concerned about the severity and frequency of accidents in Steiner Ranch since moving to the area seven years ago, it was the deadly collisions along RM 620 on Feb. 17 and Feb. 23 that sparked her to form an online advocacy group for a safer roadway.
“I was trying to make it clear that I don’t want this to be another place where we are complaining about things because there are plenty of sites (where) a lot of that is going on,” she said. “I was looking for people who had an interest in talking and doing things and being a part of the solution.”
Briscoe formed Citizens for a Safe 620 and has already held two meetings with the organization’s core group, including Steiner Ranch residents Anne Crowley, Martha Molinari and Linda Vezina.
With 667 Facebook members as of April 11, Citizens for a Safe 620 focuses on safety in the RM 620 corridor.
Briscoe compiled a list of questions members had about the Four Points through Mansfield Dam stretch of RM 620, a roadway managed by the Texas Department of Transportation but traverses through the city of Austin and Travis County within that region.
“We put this together in late February and this (group) is (formed) out of people being frustrated,” Briscoe said. “We’re trying to find answers and smart solutions and ways to approach this that are impactful.”
Exploring safety solutions as opposed to concentrating on traffic or development in the RM 620 area “is the key,” she said.
“Safety is a common issue regardless of what your political leanings are,” Briscoe said. “People don’t want their friends and neighbors dying and no organization or politician or police officer wants to have to deal with that.”
The group is set to advocate for:
- reduced speed limits and more safety enhancements along RM 620;
- a median from Steiner Ranch south to Mansfield Dam and from Steiner Ranch north to the intersection of RM 620 and RR 2222;
- greater enforcement of and stiffer texting and driving laws on RM 620, including a more stringent texting and driving state standard; and
- a unified community voice with local events and offline efforts such as petitions and town hall meetings.
Travis County Sheriff’s Office
Citizens for a Safe 620 is also seeking additional traffic support from Travis County Sheriff’s Office. TCSO held a program March 20, Coffee with a Cop, which was attended by members of the group.
“What we’re noticing, becauses of the growth in the unincorporated areas of Travis County, the traffic is just becoming more and more and more and harder and harder and harder to control,” TCSO Captain Craig Smith said. “To be quite honest, it’s not just 620, it’s all the way around the county.”
He said his department is trying to identify what type of traffic strategies can be put in place “to combat the traffic flow problem” in addition to working with Travis County commissioners and other county and state agencies to determine the best traffic control measures for the region. Although TxDOT has long-term transportation plans for the RM 620 corridor, Smith said his department is looking at other short-term solutions including stepping up traffic enforcement on RM 620, RR 2222 and Texas 71.
With 12 motorcycle officers dedicated to traffic and 10 regular traffic officers in patrol cars, Smith said TCSO is hindered by its limited resources to help local traffic flow issues.
“(These officers) work collisions and they try to enforce everything from speeding to red lights to seatbelts, anything that’s traffic-related,” he said. “If we have a problem area like Four Points and if we can put enough traffic officers in that area to just run radar all day long, to enforce the red lights, the stop signs—well, we know we can bring those (traffic issues, collision) numbers down. But with limited resources to try to cover the entire county, that’s the challenge for us because we still have traffic problems in Del Valle as it grows just as fast as areas on the west side.”
Smith said his department pulls statistical data every month to determine where the worst traffic problems are and then puts resources in the region “to help combat that problem.
Representative Paul Workman, R-Austin, said TxDOT has “already let a construction contract to resurface (RM 620 at the Steiner Ranch neighborhood) with new porous asphalt.” However, he said the weather needs to be warmer to lay down the asphalt.
TxDOT Public Information Officer Diann Hodges said the resurfacing project will be conducted later this spring, “when temperatures are consistently in the 70s at night.”
RM 620—from Quinlan Park Road southward to Mansfield Dam—was texturized Feb. 25, said Hodges about the process that helps prevent cars from sliding on the roadway.
When prompted, Workman said the texturizing project was impacted by contacts from Citizens for a Safe 620.
“Texturizing probably was (brought forward by Citizens for a Safe 620),” Workman said. “(TxDOT) hadn’t planned to do that. (But) the new surface was already planned and they let it this winter.”
Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board, that coordinates regional transportation planning across several counties, is slated to decide May 7 whether it can fund a project to add a lane, turn lanes and a raised median on RM 620 between Texas 71 and Aria Drive/Cavalier Drive in Lakeway. However, a project concerning the northern portion of RM 620—from Mansfield Dam to US Highway 183 is not included in the May 7 decision, an action Citizens for a Safe 620 is asking its members to push forward by emailing CAMPO board members and local representatives.
Briscoe, along with other community representatives, addressed CAMPO April 9 regarding the need for improvements on RM 620.
“The other project that is going on is (RM) 2222 and the bypass from (RM) 620 over to (RM) 2222,” Workman said. “This summer, (TxDOT) is going to let the construction contract for the first phase of that which is going to add a lane in each direction on (RM) 2222, from about River Place Boulevard eastbound for a mile or so. And then the second phase will be a year later which will include the bypass and other work in the Four Points area.”
According to TxDOT, the first phase of the project that will let in July is estimated to cost $13 million and the second phase, scheduled to let in July 2019, is estimated to cost $10 million for construction. Both phases are funded.
However, these projects may not be enough, Briscoe said.
“This is great that (TxDOT is) going to do the bypass but we’re still receiving failing grades at critical points of the roadway,” she said.
Recently, the group began working with other organizations that have similar goals for the roadway, regarding its traffic and safety, including the Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association, said Briscoe who is also the president of the West Austin Chamber of Commerce.
She said Citizens for a Safe 620 will begin communicating some of its efforts through the West Austin Chamber, collecting stories about how traffic and accidents on RM 620 have impacted businesses in the area.
“We saw those (stories) come through in comments (on the group’s Facebook page)—how people won’t go out during certain times of the day, if there’s an accident or vehicular traffic,” Briscoe said.
Four Points Task Force
The chamber sponsors the Four Points Task Force, a group that includes Austin District 6 Councilman Jimmy Flannigan and local residents, to address mobility and other issues in the region.
“We’ve had a good response from (Travis County Commissioner Precinct 2) Brigid Shea and Jimmy Flannigan who have committed to organizing a meeting with parties that are involved, including the city of Cedar Park, TxDOT, city of Austin” Briscoe said. “They’ve committed to bringing parties together to talk about potential funding opportunities (regarding RM 620 improvements) from Texas 71 to US Highway 183.”
In response to an inquiry from Workman’s office, TxDOT said it will be placing 45 mph advisory plaques for the curve signs situated in the RM 620 area in the very near future, with portable message boards already in place.
Citizens for a Safe 620 is currently collecting testimonials of residents’ personal experiences traveling RM 620. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.