By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
Nearly 200 local residents attended the Travis County Steiner Ranch Area Evacuation Plan Open House on Thursday, and the vast majority seemed to want to weigh in on their opposition to the county’s preferred route F – the only permanent road being considered.
On display were maps and designs of three routes still up for consideration. Teams of Travis County officials were answering questions and hearing feedback at the April 18 event at Canyon Ridge Middle School.
“A lot of us around in Westridge think we’re being railroaded,” said Gregg Rosenblatt, a 16 year Steiner resident.
He and neighbors have been trying to get momentum opposing route F with a grassroots effort. But they have been met with resistance and many don’t feel their voices are being heard. Many of his neighbors bought their homes in the area specifically because they backed up to quiet, peaceful greenbelts and parks, he said.
“There’s the issue of traffic, safety and potential increase in crime,” Rosenblatt said. “How can Flat Top handle all of that added traffic and not be widened? We are directly impacted, we’re worried about property values. Will there be any remediation done to protect from the quiet we now enjoy? Is it necessary to have a permanent use road versus the need for an evacuation road?”
Rosenblatt said he is not opposed to having an evacuation road.
“It wasn’t until December that the county made it known that they were moving forward with a full-use road,” he said. “We need more information that hasn’t been provided yet on what life will be like with a full-use road.”
Travis County had newly released traffic data counts on display on one of the walls during the open house. The county collected traffic count data on January 31, 2019 and based on that data, an average of nearly 4,000 trips a day would use the proposed route F. That would be some 1,500 fewer trips than Steiner Ranch Boulevard.
Flat Top Ranch Road is smaller at 40 feet wide than Steiner Boulevard, which is 44 feet wide.
Bike trail comments
More than 20 members of the Steiner Interscholastic Mountain Bike Team road their bicycles to the open house.
Rob Lowe is a 19 year resident of Steiner and an assistant coach with the mountain bike team.
“Our team road up from practice (Thursday) to voice our opposition to route F and the devastating impact it will have on our team and the trail system upon which we utilize,” Lowe said.
“Unfortunately route F goes directly through the heart of our trail system,” Lowe added. “We have already lost one of our best beginner trails along Quinlan Park with the new construction at the corner of Steiner Ranch and Quinlan so this is particularly concerning.”
Troy Mutter, another assistant coach on the team, agrees.
“The main thing is the current location (of route F) impacts our trail use. It is in our most heavily trafficked spot,” Mutter said.
He says they want the county to know that the proposed route F would interfere with the trails that the cycle team uses extensively. Some 60 riders generally use the trails in that area three times a week for training.
“We have green trails, beginner cyclist trails. The road (route F) cuts off access to it,” Mutter said.
The Steiner Mountain Bike Team spent hundreds of hours in 2017 volunteering to make the trails safe for riders while training. The team does not want to lose their trails.
“On route selection, we want to work with (the county) to make adjustments,” Mutter said.
“We don’t want to see our trails destroyed,” said Piers Hendrie, another leader of the team.
“I live by John Simpson Park and bike on those trails three times a week,” said Mike Thompson, a longtime resident. “This would mess up the trails recently redone.”
Hike trail comments
Eric Morton goes to work past Lakeway and turns left on RM 620 during the work week.
Although his commute would be smoother, he said, “I moved out here for the trails and green spaces and not for roads.”
He is also on the Steiner Ranch HOA trails committee. When the proposed route F is overlaid onto the current trails, it goes right over a large number of popular trails, Morton said.
“What are they going to do to replace those trails we’ve spent hours and hours of volunteer time on,” Morton said.
Against route F
“I’m against route F 100 percent,” said Lee Hendricks. He and his wife Kim have lived in Steiner for nearly a decade. “I don’t understand why they want turn this into a road that would destroy one of the nicest things about Steiner.”
He added that “crime increases with a quick exit.”
Hendricks added that the Steiner Ranch Master Association homeowner association board has not been representing the neighborhood “as indicated by the board member who recently left, leaving a scathing message on his way out.”
The majority of the HOA board announced that it supports the building of route F about a month ago.
Another resident also is against the idea of route F.
“The reasons we bought here, they are taking away right now,” said Robert Skogstad, a Steiner resident of six years.
The direction of the three proposed routes do not solve the problem. He would like to see a road going out at the bottom of Steiner and ultimately connecting with Hwy. 71.
The proposed routes feed “into the parking lot of 620. We’ll have three roads to the parking lot of 620 instead of two,” Skogstad said.
In general, he believes roughly 30 percent of rush hour traffic is related to Vandegrift. Of the remaining traffic going out of Steiner, he thinks it is approximately split in half going towards Lakeway and going towards Cedar Park. He would rather see an additional road go over Lake Austin.
Throughout the open house, groups of residents asked a lot of questions to the Travis County officials.
David Greear, assistant public works director in the engineering division at Travis County – Transportation and Natural Resources, answered many questions.
One resident asked why it seemed a petition that has nearly 1,000 signatures against route F was discounted as valuable feedback.
Greear said they thought “early on” that the information on the petition was not fully represented and that some would have signed it not fully understanding what they were signing. He also said that they found out that there were some cases where people signed twice.
Kim Conner asked Greear about the expected speed and noise of added traffic along Flat Top Ranch Road that would come from a permanent road that was never in the master plans of the community. Rarely do people keep to the 30 mph posted limits, she said.
The proposed speed limit would be designated at 30 to 35 miles an hour, Greear said.
Additionally, Conner, who lives near the proposed route F, pointed out that the county website seems misleading when it says Leander ISD supports this road. But when she asked LISD about it, they said they would use the road. “Supporting and using are two different things,” she said.
Derek Seal, a nearby resident of the proposed route F, said that Travis County engineers said to get over the canyon along the proposed location that there would have to be a bridge some 30 feet to 40 feet high, and potentially even higher. “They said it would not be quite as high as the bridge along Mansfield Dam but a huge bridge,” Seal said, adding that he does not think the community knows that or wants that.
Comments from Montview
Two residents of adjacent neighborhood Montview were at the open house. They did not want to give their names.
“I’m not not in favor of route F. I know route B is a horrible route,” he said. That route goes through private property. “Why do we have to solve Steiner’s problem? Whether it (ends up) route F or not, route B doesn’t solve any problems.”
Many residents filled out their comments to give to Travis County officials. Residents have the opportunity to comment and give feedback on this project before May 3rd.
Background on Steiner route
A Steiner Ranch evacuation route stems from the wildfires of Labor Day weekend 2011 when 23 homes in Steiner were destroyed.
In 2017, voters approved $2.7 million in bond funding for an emergency route. In May 2018, Travis County planners started the process of finding options to build a road. In August 2018, the county presented a dozen potential options at an open house in Steiner. Of those 12 possibilities, three were selected to move on to the next planning phase.
Travis County was collecting feedback at the April 18 open house and dozens of people were writing down their comments, giving feedback on the preliminary designs.
Once a route is chosen, planners will start the final design phase, and construction is expected to begin in 2021.