$1.5M emergency evacuation road in Steiner to be finished by August  

The emergency-only evacuation road will connect Flat Top Ranch Road to Montview Drive. This will be a 20-foot wide, paved road with 2-foot shoulders. It will have gates that will be opened during an emergency.

By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News

More than a decade after the Labor Day weekend fires destroyed 23 homes in Steiner Ranch, construction is about to begin on a new evacuation route. 

Traffic backups made evacuations long and difficult in 2011 because there is only one major road and one minor road to exit the community.

Last week, Travis County commissioners approved a $1.5 million contract to build a new emergency-only road between Steiner Ranch’s Flat Top Ranch Road and Montview Drive.

“The court approved the contract on February 9,” said Kathy Hardin, senior engineer with Travis County Transportation & Natural Resources Public Works. 

The contractor is M.A Smith Contracting Company, Inc. Crews have been marking trees where the road will be.

“You have probably noticed the activity. The contractor is surveying and making his one-calls for utility locations,” Hardin said. “Our inspector has been at the site.” 

Next week, the project “notice to proceed” is anticipated to be issued on Feb. 20.

“Contract time is 184 days. Days of work Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Weekend and/or holiday work is not allowed without specific permission from Travis County,” Hardin shared.

“We are on track to complete the project this August 2023,” Hardin said.    

As of last week, the approved contract value is $1,540,035.

“We are still on track with the budget but due to supply chain issues and inflation, prices are up,” Hardin said.

The budget has gone up from original estimates. In fall of 2020, the project was estimated to cost less than $1 million and was estimated to be completed a year ago by early 2022. 

But by November 2021, the construction estimate jumped to $1.4 million with a contingency of 10%. Costs rose for construction in general and the unexpected topography challenges added to the cost of this road.

“Costs for materials, equipment, and labor associated with any construction type of work have increased dramatically when compared to pre-COVID costs,” Hardin shared then. 

Additionally, Travis County did not have on the ground topographical information for this route until design started. 

“To have the appropriate layout for roadway safety, we moved the alignment south and increased the curve radius entering the Montview Drive property. In addition, retaining walls are required to maintain safe roadway grades increasing construction costs,” Hardin shared.

The project timeline was delayed too, Hardin explained. The design engineer left the design firm, LAN and the procurement process took some time.

This road project has been in the works for nearly a decade. Not long after the 2011 wildfires, residents of Steiner Ranch started sharing frustrations of the hours-long evacuation. As part of the ETJ, they found that Travis County was their authority and residents started showing up to speak at Travis County Commissioner meetings.

The county heard their concerns and started the process of finding a solution. They explored options on evacuation routes and looked at a dozen opportunities and presented them to the public in 2018. 

But by late 2018, the selections garnered lots of pushback from the community especially after it appeared that a permanent road, route F, was endorsed by several key groups including emergency workers and a majority of the Steiner Ranch Master Association board of directors. This would have created an additional permanent road through the Steiner greenbelt to RM 620. 

But by early 2019, hundreds of residents signed a petition against route F. Several meetings were held by Travis County and the HOA and they became heated with the vast majority of residents not wanting the permanent road. Then after the costly price estimates came in for route F, Travis County decided to proceed with route B.

Later this year, when this route B is finished, there will be emergency gates along the road, which are locked unless people need to evacuate. The access route may be used in either direction, into or out of Steiner Ranch and the Montview community.  

It will not be open to everyday traffic. The gates will be manually opened by first responders in an emergency.

“The direction of flow will be determined by the incident commander in charge of opening the emergency route,” according to Travis County.