Large aerial maps of the ‘Y’ and the surrounding region were sprawled out on the school cafeteria tables, allowing citizens to use markers and detail areas of special concern.
by Bobbie Jean Sawyer
About a hundred people inspected huge display charts on easels and conversed with transportation officials at a recent open house on the Oak Hill Parkway Project. The come-and-go affair was hosted by TxDOT and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) at Small Middle School on Nov. 15. Attendees were encouraged to share their feedback on the project with planners as well as TxDOT and CTRMA staff in attendance.
Surveys and comment forms were passed out to each guest, to be reviewed by TxDOT.
Displays were set up throughout the meeting room outlining the history of the ‘Y’ intersection and a timeline for the project in the coming years. Large aerial maps of the ‘Y’ and the surrounding region were sprawled out on the school cafeteria tables, allowing citizens to use markers and detail areas of special concern.
Wade Strong, a project planner with the Rodriguez Transportation Group, said that while many people are frustrated by the project’s lengthy history, they’re also eager for a new beginning.
“People are excited and happy to see that the project is re-starting. There’s been a very supportive community in the past—very interested and looking to get re-engaged,” said Strong, who’s been involved with the project since September 2011. “I think it’s going to be a win-win situation for everybody here.”
Strong said the Oak Hill Parkway Project could improve not only traffic, but also the look and livability of the community as a whole.
“With the facility itself, the aesthetics will blend in with the community. We’ll have meetings specifically for that to make sure that the community is happy and it buys into what it’s going to look like,” Strong said.
He said the project could possibly spur other projects, such as a town center in Oak Hill, and some of the ideas put forward during last year’s Green Mobility Challenge—a design contest to develop eco-friendly designs for the ‘Y’ and a section of State Highway 45 Southwest (SH 45).
“This project could provide some opportunities for those other redevelopments and new things to happen that I think a lot of people are going to be excited about,” Strong added.
Environmental concerns, particularly maintaining the quality of the Edwards Aquifer, are a top concern, according to Strong.
“Water quality is a very big issue,” he said. “That’s something that we’re going to pay very close attention to and make sure that—whatever we do here, if we do anything—it won’t degrade water quality.”
Strong said if construction is done on the roadway, engineers will use water quality facilities to filter stormwater runoff before it goes into a stream. He said the project will also favor those who prefer to travel without an automobile.
“We’re going to do something to improve transportation facilities for bicyclists,” He said. “We realize that’s an important issue and we’re certainly going to look at that.”
Oak Hill resident Gene Shamburger said he came to the open house to learn more about the options for the project and provide feedback to TxDOT and CTRMA staff.
Shamburger said the traffic at the ‘Y’ makes it difficult to run even simple errands. “If I go to do something in the morning before 10 o’clock it takes me probably 15 minutes to get through Oak Hill,” Shamburger said. He said he often tries to bypass the ‘Y’ by using alternative routes, such as Slaughter Lane, but the nearby roads are becoming clogged as well.
“Everybody else is going that way now in the afternoon and in the morning so Slaughter is just wearing out because of all the traffic that’s cutting around Oak Hill,” Shamburger said. “The same goes for Convict Hill. We use Convict Hill a lot to avoid the ‘Y’.”
In addition to being time consuming, Shamburger said the roadway is also dangerous for drivers. “Every day the fire trucks now come from the new station around Covered Bridge and down Scenic Brook by our house up to 290,” he said. “There’s probably three a day at least—accidents that they’re going to right there on our stretch of the road.”
Rick Perkins, a Granada Hills resident, said he attended the meeting to voice his support for a tolled overpass that would carry non-local drivers over the intersection and alleviate traffic for Oak Hill residents.
“Every five years we start this process again and so here I am making sure that somebody is here saying ‘yes, we want the freeway’,” Perkins said. “Locally, we won’t be paying tolls because we’ll be on the local roads. We’ll be on the feeder roads. We’ll still have what we have now but we need to get all the traffic that needs to go to Dripping Springs and Belterra—everything west because it keeps on growing west—all that traffic over us and out.”
While some residents are concerned about the impact such a construction would have on the Edwards Aquifer region, Perkins said he believes the freeway would benefit the water quality in the region.
“A roadway would add modern controls to the runoff and I think it’s going to be a huge advantage to the water quality,” he said.
Perkins said the elimination of bumper-to-bumper traffic would also significantly lower exhaust pollution in the Oak Hill area.
A 2011 study prepared by the Transportation Modeling Program for the Texas Commission of Environmental Equality showed higher pollution among cars traveling 2.5 miles per hour than cars traveling at average speeds.
“In congestion, an automobile puts out about seven to ten times more air pollutants than it does when it’s traveling a normal speed of 45 to 50 miles an hour,” Perkins said. “So if we can stop the congestion, our air quality in this region will be much better.”
Diana Goodloe of Covered Bridge said she hopes to see an Oak Hill town center with bicycle and pedestrian access incorporated into the Oak Hill Parkway project.
“I want to be able to have an area of town that is easy to live in. We’d like to live in Oak Hill—really live here—and not be having to go into Austin or up to Bee Caves to access businesses,” Goodloe said. “It can take 15 minutes sometimes to go three miles to a local business.”
Goodloe said she hopes these informal community events help to jumpstart a project that’s been such a longtime in the making.
“My husband and I are retired and we hope it won’t take too many years to get this done because I understand from talking and going to meetings with other residents that this has been going on a long time,” Goodloe said. “We really have not been able to have political representation from City Council and other entities—that would really help this to become a reality and improve our part of town.”
Timeline for the Oak Hill Parkway Project:
2013: Ongoing public involvement in the form of open houses and committee meetings
2015: Development of Environmental Study followed by a public hearing on the Environmental Study later in the year
2016: Finding of the Environmental Study anticipated
2016 or later: Construction to be determined
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