Several key meetings held in May aimed to shed light on proposed funding and fixes for congestion and road safety problems along RM 620 between Mansfield Dam and U.S. Highway 183. Residents shared concerns, asked questions and urged the Capital Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) to take action to relieve traffic congestion during meetings with local, area and state officials.
CAMPO failed to approve any additional funding for the northern section of RM 620 at its May 7 meeting despite hearing from a large contingent of area residents. The following night, the Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association near from SRNA chairman Brian Thompto on the issue, as he related to attendees the events of the previous night’s CAMPO meeting.
"While we dominated the feedback at CAMPO... when I saw the numbers I was appalled,” Thompto said.
Local area residents responded to a call to action and bombarded CAMPO with comments, providing approximately 75 percent, or 225, of the 300 comments CAMPO received.
However, Thompto expressed frustration that a Steiner Ranch area community of more than 14,000 generated only 225 comments.
“Everyone in this community will spend hours complaining about traffic. But they can't take five minutes to send an email," Thompto said.
State Rep. Paul Workman and Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea were in attendance at the SRNA meeting.
"Democracy works. When people show up, and when people send in some 300 letters and communications, which is way more than CAMPO ever gets, it does make a difference," Shea said.
SUB: RM 620 south example
What also makes a difference appears to be the ability to bring political clout, representation and funding to the table, as did Lakeway and Bee Cave. Those communities garnerd $59 million in funding for their own 620 south project in the latest round of CAMPO funding. The cities of Lakeway and Bee Cave each committed $5 million to the project.
Generating matching funds is more challenging for areas without local governance and existing outside the Austin city limits. Shea and Workman represent the Four Points area, as does Austin City Council member Jimmy Flannigan. A portion of the RM 620 path to U.S. 183 is also represented by State Rep. Tony Dale of Cedar Park.
That stretch of roadway crosses three congressional districts. U.S. Representatives John Carter, Roger Williams and Michael McCaul, who are all running for re-election this November, all represent areas along RM 620 between Mansfield Dam and U.S. 183.
According to Shea, Texas Department of Transportation communicated that one of the reasons they chose not to tackle the northern section of RM 620 with this round of funding was that there were no matching funds available as there were on the south end of RM 620.
Shea added, however, that she spoke to both the city and the county and neither were approached by TxDOT for matching funds, as they are allowed to do to boost funding for road projects.
"It wasn't that they asked us and we declined. They didn't ask us," said Shea.
SUB: Current & projected fixes for RM 620
In 2012, the SRNA partnered with 10 different neighborhoods to push TxDOT to author a traffic study on local traffic and safety issues. Results of that study was published last February and identified several projects to address congestion.
"A corridor study is not considered a project,” Thompto said. “We now have to turn a corridor study into a project. A project is a defined scope of work that has a dollar amount attached to it and has a sponsor who is going to be willing to pay for it... This is just how government works."
Upcoming projects include road resurfacing, which TxDOT began ahead of schedule at Mansfield Dam after a recent spate of accidents. That project is expected to be by the end of June and will feature a new surface made of a more permeable material that channels rainwater from the roadway into side gullies instead of pooling on the road itself.
Construction will also begin this summer on a half-mile bypass between RM 620 and RM 2222 to help alleviate traffic near the entrance to Vandegrift High School. That project was planned in 2014 and funded in 2016.
Bemoaning the long delay in realizing the benefit of a project planned for years ago, Thompto said, “That's how long it took, and that's with pushing pretty hard.”
At a March 20 SRNA meeting that included officials from Lake Travis Fire Rescue, Travis County Sheriff's Department and TxDOT, a staff member from Rep. Workman’s office made recommendations to TxDOT to install raised concrete barriers along the length of RM 620 between Steiner Ranch and RM 2222, as well as on RM 2222 and the bypass road when it's built.
TxDOT responded to the recommendation on April 5, stating that most proposed barriers were not feasible or required further study, but that they would be providing a raised concrete barrier between Steiner Ranch Boulevard at RM 620 through to the entrance of the bypass road once built. A date and funding have not yet been secured for such a project.
While these smaller fixes are in the works, the next step after the bypass is a significantly larger project which would widen RM 620, adding four express toll lanes and potentially an elevated section similar to Hwy. 183.
The estimated cost of the “big fix” will be upwards of $400 million.
SUB: More community involvement needed
Until then, Thompto anticipates that in its next round of funding — expected to take place in approximately 18 months — CAMPO will take up the issue of northern RM 620, although likely the section near Anderson Mill Road.
The Austin-Round Rock MSA was the ninth fastest growing region in the U.S. in 2017, growing by nearly 400,000 new residents across the metropolitan area over that time frame.
While traffic in the Four Points area is challenging, Workman reminded the audience at the meeting last week that the northern RM 620 corridor isn’t even on the top 100 list of most congested roadways in the Austin metropolitan area. The segment of RM 620 near Anderson Mill Road is the closest to that top 100 list, at number 143.
“We are working, trying to do what we can to get this done,” said Thompto. “It's a bureaucracy. It's always been, and it's hard to get things done quickly."