By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
Travis County commissioners voted unanimously to proceed with route B on Tuesday as the $980,000 emergency-only, gated evacuation road between the Steiner Ranch and Montview communities.
A dozen people — mostly opposed to route B from Montview — spoke to the county commissioners at the July 9 meeting. Travis County staff also spoke and gave their recommendation of route B and several residents from Steiner spoke in favor of route B and against route F.
“Throughout this entire thing, I’ve never received an email, a phone call, no notification whatsoever,” said Ryan Herring. He purchased a lot in Montview with plans to build a house so his 7-year-old son could walk to his mom’s house in Steiner. Route B is to go through his lot.
He said county staff reassured him that “the county doesn’t take private property” before he bought his lot. “I feel like most of this has been happening behind our back,” Herring said.
Another Montview resident echoed those thoughts: “If it was really about coming up with a collective solution, we would have been included fully and thoroughly,” Jeff Witte, resident of Montview Drive, told commissioners.
“I apologize to Montview neighbors,” said Brigid Shea, Precinct 2 commissioner. “Staff should have contacted you sooner but B was always in the mix if you feel like it suddenly appeared.”
Over the past several weeks, county engineers working on the project shifted their recommendation from route F to route B due to budget constraints. Route F — a $7.2 million one mile, permanent road proposal that would connect Flat Top Ranch Road to RM 620 — had been the county staff’s preferred route for some six months. Route B will cost less than a million dollars and is an emergency-only, 900-foot gated connection between Flat Top Ranch Road and Montview Drive. Both routes have been on county maps along with 10 other route options for about a year.
Many others who spoke at the county commissioners court opposing B said they were trying to get organized and catch up since learning that route B would be recommended at the beginning of July.
Montview residents cited loss of property value because of route B, and they cited that adding more cars to an already crowded RM 620 does not help in an emergency.
Witte said large trucks, like fire engines, would have trouble getting through their community in case of an emergency because there’s a low water crossing, a cattle guard and the narrow road has a hairpin turn that will slow down an emergency evacuation.
Another Montview resident urged commissioners to choose another route and spare a road coming through the community of 200 families.
“A small group (against route F) has misrepresented the (Steiner) neighborhood,” said Jackie Rieck, Montview resident. She read off several comments from Steiner residents in favor of route F.
Another Montview resident suggested that Steiner use their land to solve their community problem. Most of the land surrounding route F is owed by the homeowners through the Steiner Ranch Master Association. “B is a band-aid fix,” the resident said.
Deb Groom, another Montview resident, asked the commissioners if they would consider other options.
“Route B is not a good option. I wish we could be off the pavement topic,” Groom said referring to shelter in place options and community wide fire drills. “People of Steiner have heard no communication about safety or a plan (in case of emergencies).”
Another Montview resident said his community only has one way in and one way out.
“If you open up a road (route B) for 17,000, we’ll never get out. How’s that supposed to happen,” Williamson said. “I think it’s a terrible route. There’s a bond election in 2023, you can get more money instead of terrorizing our neighborhood.”
Brian Thompto, chairman of the Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association, spoke during the comment section of the meeting stating the the SRNA has not ever taken a position on the route options.
He added that principle concerns that came out of the Steiner fires were that we need alternatives and improvement to evacuate in a timely manner.
“This process has been a frustrating one,” said Thompto.
He added that he “shares some concerns” that route F was the focus for six months and just in the past few days, route B has been the focus.
“Would route B provide the meaningful improvement to capacity,” he asked.
Thompto emphasized the lack of any additional improvements proposed along the route to help with emergency traffic flow if route B were adopted, such as to the low water crossing and cattle guard.
David Greear, Travis County assistant public works director, stated that originally fixing and raising the low water crossing was on the plans and that pushed the price to over $2 million but the county has taken that off of the project at this time.
In response to this discussion Greear said “We would like to work with them (Montview) to see what improvements we could make to that roadway that would be palatable to them as well.”
“Funding options for CAMPO funds pretty much went away for three or four years,” Greear said. Without the option of CAMPO funds, route B is “a viable option that we can build quickly and affordably and within our budget.”
Late last year, the county said they planned to get grant funds from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to help pay for route F but recently CAMPO decided to use grant funds to revamp I-35, the Mobility35 Capital Express Project.
Commissioner Shea asked if ever a emergency-only gate has been opened to the public in Travis County and Greear shared, “We’ve never changed a gated to open access. We have no intention for this to ever be open to the public.”
The county staff admits that route F is the better long-term solution — the two lane permanent road would have capacity of 1,500 vehicles per hour versus 750 on route B. The county is keeping route F on the blueprint along with a list of other county project that need future funding.
Earlier during the discussion phase of the meeting, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty asked Thompto to come up and give perspective on the area. Daugherty asked if the idea of a community assessment has been considered and Thompto answered that it had not. Daugherty said it is helpful to get the community to be involved in the funding if large projects like adding a road are on the table.
Commissioner Daughterty commended the anti route F residents for being at the table a long time and being orchestrated.
Dan Cornelius, a Steiner resident who favors route B and not route F, added “keep in mind, this is just an evacuation route, and we welcome you all (from Montview) to come through our neighborhood when you have an emergency.”
This article has been updated.