By Ann Fowler
About 150 people attended a March 22 Open House on planned intersection changes hosted by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) at Small Middle School. The event allowed residents and business owners to inspect the plans for five Oak Hill intersections along U.S. 290 West. Transportation officials from the City of Austin and TxDOT were available to answer questions.
Displays showed plans for the following intersections along U.S. 290 West:
- Turn lanes planned at Ranch-to-Market Road 1826
- Turn lanes planned at Convict Hill Road
- Continuous flow intersection planned for the ‘Y’
- Continuous flow intersection planned for William Cannon Drive
- A reconfigured intersection at Joe Tanner Lane to improve operation
In addition, areas between intersections will be resurfaced with permeable friction course (PFC) pavement to provide a quieter and safer drive and improve water quality.
Gary Schatz, a City of Austin traffic engineer, said work at the simpler intersections — Convict Hill and RM 1826 — will begin this year, with completion in 6 to 9 months. The other three intersections will follow as Phase II, possibly starting by next summer, with completion expected in 6 to 12 months.
Schatz said he has gone to Utah and Missouri to see existing continuous flow intersections. “I’ve driven these. I’ve videoed them. I’ve walked them,” he said. “These will be Texas’ first. I’m thrilled about it, but we’ve got to do them doggone right.”
Continuous flow intersections are designed to allow those turning left do so before the actual intersection, with the goal to save time taken by the left-turn cycle. Ken Seiler of Legend Oaks stopped by to inspect the plans. He said: “I applaud TxDOT for trying to do something with a not too good situation as a kind of interim solution to a big problem we have out here now. I think it’s great — the designs are a little less common than you normally see and I’m interested to see how well it works.”
Tom Thayer of South Windmill Run said, “I think what they’re doing will definitely help, and it’s not going to cost a whole lot of money. And anything that helps is definitely welcome, especially the fact that they’re adding in the extra shoulders – 4 to 6 foot shoulders anywhere that they’re making improvements.”
As a bicyclist, Thayer appreciates anything that will make riding safer along U.S. 290 West. Schatz said bicyclists will see improved riding room all along the roadway. He said, “From Joe Tanner all the way to 1826 we will have either sidewalks with bike lanes or 6-foot-wide shoulders — all the way through. It may not be perfect, but it’s better than what we have. The widening occurs with the project.” He added that a turn lane will be added between 1826 and Convict Hill.
Circle C resident Michael Theone, a senior at Bowie High School, said he travels the area for work and to visit family. While he was interested to see how the roadway would change, he had another reason to attend the open house — he could earn points in his AP government class toward a test grade by critiquing the event.
Cori and Travis Mitchell, along with sons Titus and Timothy, were curious to see how the construction would affect their business, Mitchell Family Motor Trikes, located between the ‘Y’ and William Cannon. Cori said, “We’re concerned with how the construction will affect access to our business.”
Diana Goodloe of Covered Bridge said, “I wanted to see the plans for what is to be done. As I pass through the intersections, even though I’m a retired person, it really delays my trips where I’m going, and uses a lot of extra gasoline, which is a very valuable commodity these days.”
Goodloe mentioned that earlier in the day a 10-minute trip through the ‘Y’ had taken double that due to traffic congestion. She sees the planned intersection work as the first step in solving the traffic problem in Oak Hill. “I see [the intersection redesigns] as a partial solution, because the problem is big, it’s gone on a long time. It’s going to require a pretty massive effort over the long run. We’re hoping for the town center to be included in this traffic situation to improve our community. Just make it where we can live out here comfortably.”
Karen Huber, Travis County Commissioner for Precinct 3, attended the Open House. She worked with the city and state to get funding for the work. The City is contributing $4 million, the county $1.5 million, and TxDOT will pay the remaining $2 to $3 million for construction.
Huber agreed with Goodloe’s assessment, saying of the intersection project, “This will not resolve the congestion, it will just keep traffic moving more freely. It is an interim ‘help’ and should only be looked at as such.” She added, “I’m pleased to see this project moving forward. It has been so painfully slow to get anything done at the ‘Y.’ This is one of the reasons Travis County was willing to participate — to get something going!”
Albert Gonzales, who is running against Huber for Precinct 3 Commissioner, said in an email to the Fix290 group: “I attended the Open House and wasn’t too impressed. Why? I believe Travis County and the City of Austin can do better than just re-striping and adding a couple of more lights. I believe the only traffic saving time would be welcomed by the motorists who will be turning either way onto William Cannon.” Gonzales said he has a plan to fund a free Oak Hill parkway – a simpler and less expensive ultimate solution for the roadway.
In the meantime, the Open House attendees seemed pleased that something is being done as an interim solution. Many expressed appreciation for the roadway signs TxDOT put along U.S. 290 west to inform and/or remind residents of the meeting.
Carlos Lopez, the Austin District Engineer for TxDOT, said, “We typically put up portable changeable message signs along the road that will be the subject of an upcoming open house because we know that the folks most likely to be interested in an upcoming project probably drive that road every day.”
Angela Armitage of the Estates at Loma Vista said, “I was pleased to be able talk to several people from TxDOT and to know the website to look for.” For more detailed information about the proposed intersection improvements, see www.txdot.gov/project_information/projects/austin/default.htm
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