By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
Public comments were mixed during the virtual open house for Route B — the emergency-only road that will connect the Steiner Ranch and Montview communities, and will provide an alternative road in case of an emergency or an evacuation.
The need for the road stems from the inefficient evacuation with only two roads out of Steiner during the Labor Day weekend fires of 2011.
Travis County Commissioners Court approved moving forward with the $650,000+ Route B a year ago on July 9, 2019. The road is in the design phase now and will move into the construction phase in several months.
Construction will likely begin at the end of this year, said Kathy Hardin, an engineer with Travis County Transportation & Natural Resources Capital Improvement Projects.
A Route B virtual open house was held May 6 – 22 and from that, 45 comments were made about the project. Out of the total, eight were neutral, eight were positive and 29 were negative.
“I think it’s a pretty good gauge,” Hardin said. “The people in Steiner who were not happy with Route F probably didn’t comment.”
Route F was the recommended route of Travis County initially but it received significant pushback from residents of Steiner. The construction budget of more than $7.2 million was one of the main reasons the county shifted plans and voted on Route B.
Sentiments during the open house were as expected and touched on a range of topics, Hardin said.
The challenge of traversing the narrow streets of Montview Drive and Fritz Hughes Park Road, and the low water crossing area were big concerns.
“There were general negative comments for that,” Hardin said. In general, according to the registered comments, “people in Monteview don’t want it.”
Other negative comments indicated that Route B is a “waste of money”and it “doesn’t address issues.” Some said they “want Route F” and that “Route B is not much help.”
“If we stop developing in Steiner, then it will be a better situation for all,” was one comment.
“Steiner continues to get building permits adding to the burden of getting people out of there,” another comment stated.
As far as neutral comments go, Hardin said, comments included wanting “Route B to be open” rather than emergency-only, and for construction to “limit the proposed clearing.”
Hardin confirmed that the county does plan to limit clearing and will “only take out trees that have to be taken out.”
On the positive side, comments included Route B is “better than F” and they “appreciated aesthetics” and they “like Route B but want the low water crossing fixed and funded.”
Hardin said that the most important concern was the low water crossing and that she “can’t answer that until one more discussion with Montview.”
The county is scheduled to talk in August with the Montview community and Hardin said Travis County Precinct 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea or someone from her office is to be there.
“We don’t want to cause more problems for that neighborhood,” Hardin said.
The road will take up as small of a footprint as possible, and will be gated and used for emergency purposes only, Hardin said.
Route B connects Flat Top Ranch Road to Montview Drive. This route includes a 20-foot wide paved road with 2-foot shoulders. The two planned gates are located at Flat Top and at the rear lot line of the Montview lot.
Hardin plans to get with the Steiner homeowners association to get guidance and ideas on the gate that faces Flat Top.
The costs for easements including one property in Montview and the Steiner Ranch Master Association property will be additional costs to the construction budget of $650,000.
The original plan for Route B was more of a straight road but it had to be shifted away from several environmental features: a natural seep spring, some rimrock and a natural recharge feature.
“We can’t cross the ravine where we originally planned to so we have to shift (the road) over… upstream,” Hardin said. “We all preferred to go straight in…
but now (the entrance) is closer to Prairie Clover Path.”
The gates will be manually operated by first responders in the event of an emergency with a Knox Box, a small, wall-mounted safe that holds building keys for fire departments, emergency medical services, and police to retrieve in emergency situations.
Travis County would like to maintain the integrity of the open space and include aesthetics similar to that existing at the Flat Top area. For example, the retaining walls will be constructed of similar stone at the entrance of The Estates at West Ridge.
This gate will include signs indicating the route is not for public use and is to remain closed.
The gate materials on the rear lot line of the Montview Lot will be coordinated with the property owner and will include a sign similar to the Flat Top sign.