Key meetings cover RM 620 N congestion

The Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association May 8 meeting in Steiner Ranch had 30 or so in attendance. Much of the focus of the open forum meeting was about RM 620 North and how it was left out of the latest round of CAMPO funding.

CAMPO fails to fund fixes now,  SRNA talks next steps

By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News

Several key meetings last week with local, area and state leaders shed light on proposed funding and fixes along RM 620 North — past, present and future. Residents shared during the comment periods, asking questions and urging relief to traffic congestion.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) met on May 7 and failed to pass any additional funding for the northern section of RM 620, as projected.

This despite a large push from the Four Points community to provide feedback to CAMPO, urging its board to address traffic and safety concerns along RM 620 N between Mansfield Dam and Hwy. 183.

Then the following night, at the Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association meeting, Brian Thompto, SRNA chairman, laid out the work that has been done and what remains to be done by the community to advance the cause of expanding RM 620 N. He was at the CAMPO meeting and recapped that briefly for the 30 or so in attendance at the SRNA meeting, held in Steiner Ranch on May 8.

“While we dominated the feedback at CAMPO… when I saw the numbers I was appalled,” Thompto said.

Local area residents responded to a call to action and bombarded CAMPO with comments, providing approximately 75 percent, or 225, of the 300 comments CAMPO received.

Still, though, 225 out of a community of over 14,000 left Thompto, who has worked for years on the front lines for the needs of the community, visibly frustrated.

“Everyone in this community will spend hours complaining about traffic. But they can’t take five minutes to send an email,” Thompto said.

Texas Rep. Paul Workman (HD-47) and Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea were in attendance at the SRNA meeting.

“Democracy works. When people show up, and when people send in some 300 letters and communications, which is way more than CAMPO ever gets, it does make a difference,” Shea said.

RM 620 south example

What also makes a difference appears to be the ability to bring political clout, representation and funding to the table, as did Lakeway and Bee Cave, which was able t get $59 million in funding for their own 620 south project in the latest round of CAMPO funding. The cities of Lakeway and Bee Cave each committed $5 million to the project.

Without local governance and existing outside the Austin city limits can make it more challenging for the Four Points area to get representation. Besides Shea and Workman, the section of RM 620 N falls within Austin City Councilman Jimmy Flannigan’s 6th District.

According to Shea, Texas Department of Transportation communicated that one of the reasons they chose not to tackle the northern section of RM 620 with this round of funding was that there were no matching funds available as in the south end of RM 620.

Shea added, however, that she spoke to both the city and the county and neither were approached by TxDOT for matching funds, as they are allowed to do to boost funding for road projects.

“It wasn’t that they asked us and we declined. They didn’t ask us.” said Shea.

Current & projected fixes for RM 620

In 2012, the SRNA partnered with 10 different neighborhoods to push TxDOT to author a traffic study on local traffic and safety issues. Those study results were ultimately published in February of 2017 and pointed to short-, mid- and long-range projects to address congestion on RM 620.

Though, as Thompto emphasized, “A corridor study is not considered a project. We now have to turn a corridor study into a project. A project is a defined scope of work that has a dollar amount attached to it and has a sponsor who is going to be willing to pay for it… This is just how government works.”

Upcoming projects include road resurfacing, which TxDOT began ahead of schedule at Mansfield Dam after a recent spate of accidents. That project is expected to be completed in May or June, depending on the weather. The new surface is made of a more permeable material that channels rainwater from the roadway into side gullies instead of pooling on the road itself.

Construction will begin on a half-mile bypass between RM 620 and RM 2222 this summer to help alleviate traffic between Steiner Ranch and Vandegrift High School/downtown Austin. That project was planned in 2014 and funded in 2016.

“And that sucks that it takes so long,” admitted Thompto. “That’s how long it took, and that’s with pushing pretty hard.”

The March 20 meeting of the SRNA included officials from Lake Travis Fire Rescue, the Travis County Sheriff’s Department, TxDOT and a member of Workman’s office. From that meeting, Workman’s office made recommendations to TxDOT to install raised concrete barriers along the length of RM 620 between Steiner Ranch and RM 2222, as well as on RM 2222 and the bypass road when it’s built.

In a letter dated April 5, TxDOT replied to Workman that most proposed barriers were not feasible or required further study, but that they would be provided a raised concrete barrier between Steiner Ranch Boulevard at RM 620 through to the entrance of the bypass road once built. A date and funding have not yet been secured for such a project.

While these smaller fixes are in the works, the next step after the bypass is a significantly larger project which would widen RM 620, adding four express toll lanes and potentially an elevated section similar to Hwy. 183.

The estimated cost of the “big fix” will be upwards of $400 million.

More community involvement needed

Until then, Thompto anticipates that in their next round of funding — expected to take place in approximately 18 months — CAMPO will take up the issue of northern RM 620, although likely the section around Anderson Mill Road.

Austin-Round Rock was the ninth fastest growing region in the U.S. in 2017. From 2010 to 2017 Austin added nearly 400,000 new residents to its metropolitan area.

While traffic in the Four Points area is challenging, Workman reminded the audience at the meeting last week that the northern RM 620 corridor isn’t even on the top 100 list of most congested roadways in the Austin metropolitan area. The closest it gets is the Anderson Mill intersection, around 143 on the list.

Still, he added, “We are working, trying to do what we can to get this done. It’s a bureaucracy. It’s always been, and it’s hard to get things done quickly.”

Tempers occasionally flared at the SRNA meeting as residents wondered when funding will be provided after years of discussion.

“I’ve lived here 23 years,” said Pam Waggoner, resident, Leander ISD school board president and founder of the Four Points Traffic Committee. “We have been to meetings for 23 to 25 years getting things done in this neighborhood. The problem is not that people don’t want to help. People are tired of meetings. How many meetings, Paul (Workman), have you and I done about traffic in this area? We want action items.”

To which Thompto replied that there is more that could be done by the SRNA with greater community participation.

“I’m just telling you from my experience you really gotta commit…. The energy level of this community, the impact that we can have as a community, could be a lot higher,” he said.

“620 is kind of a disaster compared to a lot of the other things that got pushed through at CAMPO (May 7),” said Thompto, musing on the priorities of CAMPO which funds a region. “620 is broken now. It’s still going to be broken in 2020,” when the bypass is in place.

Knowing that the traffic problem also represents a rich opportunity for community involvement, ingenuity and service, Thompto took the opportunity to plug for the SRNA annual community meeting to be hosted in June.

“We would love to have you. This is your neighborhood association,” he said.

Texas Rep. Paul Workman (HD-47) (on right) and Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea (standing) visited the Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association May 8 meeting in Steiner Ranch to take questions and share input about RM 620 N. There were 30 or so attendees from the community.