Long awaited $2.5M Steiner/Montview emergency evacuation road is now open after many years of planning 

The opening of the new $2.5M evacuation route on July 10 brought together officials and organizations that helped bring it together. Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 2, holds the scissors with Robert Abbott, Lake Travis Fire Rescue chief, on her right and project manager Katharine Hardin, senior engineer with Travis County Transportation & Natural Resources, was project manager on her left. Other local HOA officials were present along with first responders and other Travis County officials.
Lake Travis Fire Rescue uses the new emergency evacuation route on July 10 at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the important road.

Article & Photos By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News

Nearly 13 years after the 2011 Labor Day weekend fires destroyed 23 homes in Steiner Ranch, there is now a new evacuation route to benefit the communities around it.

“We know this region is the highest wildfire danger region behind California,” said Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 2 during the ribbon cutting of the new road, located between Steiner and Montview on July 10.

Left to right:
Lake Travis Fire Rescue (LTDR) ESD #6 firefighters with Battalion Chief of Prevention Division Eric Carlson, representatives from Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. (LAN) Engineering Firm including President Wayne Swafford, Chief of Staff to Commissioner Brigid Shea Barbara Rush, Past Steiner Ranch Master Association President Naren Chilukuri, LTFR ESD #6 Chief Human Resources Officer Virginia Deeny, Travis County Senior Project Engineer Katherine Hardin, Travis County Commissioner Pct 2 Brigid Shea, LTFR ESD#6 Assistant Fire Chief of Operations and Training Mike Prather, LTFR ESD #6 Fire Chief Robert Abbott, LTFR ESD #6 Firefighter Mason Rush Royal, Travis County Public Works Director David Greear, Steiner Ranch residents Marilyn & Bill Fraizer, Steiner Ranch Master Association President Amy Yukich, and Past LTRF ESD #6 Board of Commissioners President and Steiner Ranch resident Debbie Tanner-Jacobs. Photo by Lynette Haaland

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

“Some folks also remember the 2011 Steiner fire when there was… a bottleneck and cars were stuck in traffic for hours,” Shea said.

Steiner Ranch Residential Owners Association board president Debbie Tanner-Jacobs was one of those residents. “Thank goodness, I was here for 2011, this is great.”

“This infrastructure improvement will increase our ability to be better prepared when the next disaster strikes,” Shea said. “The emergency access route… will not only give residents another way in and out if they need to evacuate, it will allow emergency vehicles into Steiner if the main road is blocked.” 

The road — which cost more than $2.5 million — not only benefits the more than 17,000 people who live in Steiner but also will help the smaller communities of Montview and communities along Lake Austin.

Robert Abbott, Lake Travis Fire Rescue chief, agrees.

Robert Abbott, Lake Travis Fire Rescue chief

“This is a tool, a community infrastructure tool… this is one tool in our toolbox that we don’t want to have to use but we know it is here and will use it if we need to,” Abbott shared. He added that a lot of communities do not have an evacuation road like this and that it is an asset to the community to have such a road.

Katharine Hardin, senior engineer with Travis County Transportation & Natural Resources, was project manager

Katharine Hardin, senior engineer with Travis County Transportation & Natural Resources, was project manager on the road that took six years from start to finish.  

“We had a lot of meetings. We sat down and had some very hard discussions but we remembered to keep listening and moving forward and that’s what we did,” Hardin said. 

Meetings with the community and pinpointing exactly where the road should go took two years, said David Greear, Travis County Public Works Director, at the ribbon cutting ceremony.

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.

Bill and Marilyn Frazier

“We moved in just after the fire and heard a lot about the confusion when they had the fire. We always thought there should be at least one more route… This is a good start and it’s good to see the results of four or five years of work,” said Bill Frazier, Steiner resident.

His wife Marilyn Frazier agrees. “This means a lot to us. I know a lot of people have worked very, very hard and we’re honored to be here today,” she said. The couple is part of Firewise.   

Amy Yukich,
Steiner Ranch Master Association president

“I hope that Steiner Ranch never has a wildfire again and that we never have to utilize this road,” said Amy Yukich, Steiner Ranch Master Association president.

“This is proof of what it takes for us to come together for this community and Montview and the Four Points area because it affects everybody,” said Tanner-Jacobs, board president of the Steiner Ranch Residential Owners Association. “Yes it took a long time and it took an awful lot of people coming together to put things into work, so thanks to the commissioners court, all the HOAs, and the residents who gave input.”