Attendees were divided into small groups to discuss Oak Hill’s defining characteristics
by Bobbie Jean Sawyer
About 40 local residents attended a workshop hosted by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) to brainstorm a list of possible names for an environmental impact study and long-range mobility plan for the ‘Y’ intersection area last Wednesday at the ACC Pinnacle Campus.
The workshop kicked off with a welcome from Steve Pustelnyk, communications director for CTRMA, who said the purpose of the meeting was to develop a community-branded name and identity for the project as well as provide an opportunity for CTRMA officials to hear ideas and concerns directly from citizens.
“We are starting from scratch,” Pustelnyk said. “We are going to start over and listen to you. Part of the process we’re going to do tonight is get that first initial listen in and get to hear how you view the community.”
Attendees were divided into small groups to discuss what they considered to be Oak Hill’s defining characteristics. Responses mentioned the area’s Hill Country atmosphere, frustration over mile long lines at the ‘Y’ and a lack of cyclist and pedestrian-friendly roadways.
Rick Perkins, a Granada Hills resident and co-chair of the Oak Hill Trails Association, said aside from its tendency toward gridlock, the ‘Y’ is not necessarily a defining part of Oak Hill.
“The ‘Y’ is an intersection of two freeways. It doesn’t mean anything else to me,” Perkins said. “We can make it look nice. We can put parks in and things like that but we can also shift it over. For example, the West Park PUD—if that development ever gets made—that will be the new focus of the area and (the ‘Y’) will just be an intersection of two freeways.”
Pustelnyk said he believes if congestion were decreased, the ‘Y’ could reflect the larger community values listed in the workshop.
“I think the ‘Y’ only defines the area by the frustration people experience with the mobility issues there,” Pustelnyk said. “Beyond that frustration and the mobility issues, I think most people do think of the ‘Y’ as a place where there are some large old oak trees and some unique geographical characteristics like Convict Hill and the cliffs along there.”
Cliff Anderson, a longtime Oak Hill resident who’s been involved with Oak Hill traffic issues since 1985, said his biggest concern with the ‘Y’ redesign is accessibility.
“I don’t want to end up with something that doesn’t allow us to get in and out of Oak Hill,” Anderson said. “ I want to be able to go to the businesses in Oak Hill and not just have a freeway that you can’t cross over and go under. That would just divide Oak Hill and I don’t want to see that.”
Following the discussion, attendees divided into three larger groups to draw up blueprints of their personal visions for the ‘Y’ and brainstorm a list of names. Gathered around tables scattered with markers and snacks, Oak Hill residents gave passionate presentations of their plans and listened intently to their group members, while discussing the common themes among the various plans.
The meeting ended with attendees voting for their favorite proposed project names by placing a green dot by their favorite names and a red dot by their least favorites.
Among the top choices were Oak Hill Parkway, Oak Hill Way, Convict Hill Parkway and Gateway Oak Hill.
Ira Yates, Oak Hill area resident and former candidate for Travis County commissioner precinct 3, had some fun with his suggested name, “Fracking Oak Hill”.
“It’s all about getting the gas out,” Yates explained.
Oak Hill Parkway was the clear favorite among workshop attendees, but all citizens have the opportunity to vote for their favorite name at www.mobilityauthority.com/projects/oak-hill-project.php . Voting ends on September 11.
Pustelnyk said the workshop was an indicator of the serious frustration citizens have toward the project’s long and tumultuous history.
“I think we have some challenges ahead. I think there are a lot of people who are worn out by the process. We need to get them re-energized and re-engaged,” Pustelnyk said. “But I am hopeful. I think that most folks realize that something has to be done. Hopefully now they realize with the Mobility Authority putting our resources and time into this, we really are committed to seeing this thing through to the end.”
Perkins said the narrow focus of the workshop kept the meeting from getting derailed.
“It was a fun meeting,” Perkins said. “I’ve done things like this many times but it seems like it was more focused than some of the ones that the city puts on. I would say it was probably a little more organized. Usually when you go to these meetings they have these big goals and they want to do way too much. This time we just had one focused goal and so that’s why I think we were able to achieve that goal.”
Though Perkins frequently waits in the two-mile line of cars backed up from El Rey to Joe Tanner, he said his main concern wasn’t the long wait in traffic but the environmental impact the continuous gridlock has on the environment.
“It’s almost an emergency situation,” said Perkins, who also serves as a member of Clean Air Force. “The big expense is not building the freeway and having congestion continue. Congestion puts out approximately five times as many emissions as a regular car running on a freeway. That’s why we need it — to help clear the air.”
But not everyone agrees that building a freeway is the answer.
Bruce Melton, a volunteer engineer with Fix290, a group advocating a ground level parkway instead of a freeway, said he’s on the outside when it comes to mobility in Oak Hill.
“I’m the one who thinks that traffic hasn’t grown in Oak Hill in 12 years,” Melton said. “Contrary to what every single other person in Oak Hill believes.”
Melton said by using annual TxDOT traffic surveys, he’s determined that traffic has remained flat in Oak Hill since 2000. Other local residents have said that anecdotal evidence is that traffic at the ‘Y’ has remained badly congested over the last decade, and if it has plateaued it’s because people are avoiding the ‘Y’ and taking less direct and less congested routes such as Convict Hill road or Circle Drive to Thomas Springs Road.
Melton said the continuous flow intersection and extra turn lanes soon to be put in place would decrease congestion by 40 percent, eliminating the need for a freeway in his opinion.
“I’m very pleased with the interim improvements. Being involved in the industry as a civil engineer, the interim improvements are what should have been done 20 years ago,” Melton said. “It’s going to put us back to 1990 levels.”
Melton said he fears an expansion would disrupt the greenery and wildlife that’s so prevalent in Oak Hill.
“Everybody in there was talking about how Oak Hill, in their mind, is a country place,” Melton said. “And the creek and the cliff and the trees are just about the only part of the country place we’ve got left in Oak Hill.”
Pustelnyk said CTRMA is now focused on the project name reveal and launch of the Environmental Impact Study, which will detail all the sociological and environmental effects an intersection could potentially have on the community.
Pustelnyk said an upcoming open house, tentatively set for November, will take a more detailed look at Oak Hill’s mobility issues and rely more heavily on community members’ specific ideas for the project.
“We don’t want to jump the gun,” Pustelnyk said. “It’s a staged process and it will probably be three to six months before we really start discussing potential alternatives to deal with the problems. Right now it’s about beginning to understand people’s perspectives on the overall issues and the needs before we start trying to develop a solution to a problem we don’t fully understand.”
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