Round Rock City Council passed a resolution 4-2 identifying a possible route along FM 1431 for a transmission line the Lower Colorado River Authority is looking to build in West Round Rock as the best possible route for the city.
The council passed the resolution because the LCRA is looking at various routes in West Round Rock to connect two proposed substations in the Cedar Park and Leander area to existing substations—one in Leander and one in Round Rock. The LCRA has identified dozens of potential routes, some of which run through highly-populated areas or one that would run along Brushy Creek. Ultimately the Public Utilities Commission will be the final decision maker on where the lines go.
Round Rock Neighborhood Services Coordinator Joe Brehm said the recommended route, which starts south of RM 3406 at the existing Round Rock substation, then heads north to 1431, was selected using the criteria identified by the PUC for siting the lines. He said the LCRA already has existing infrastructure along the route which they can modify to hold the 138-kV lines the LCRA is looking to build in the area. He said it would ultimately be cheaper for the LCRA, which the PUC takes into consideration, and impact fewer homes than many of the possible routes.
Residents in nearby subdivisions such as Vista Oaks said the route in the resolution would severely impact their property values and quality of life. Mayor Alan McGraw and and council members said the resolution was a recommendation, and the council was trying to choose the "least worse" route.
"This is not our line and ultimately not our decisions; it’s ultimately asking our opinions," McGraw said. "Do I want it? No, but if you look at the least worse decision, that’s where [the transmission line] should go."
McGraw said when compared to other routes, such as one that ran in tandem to Arterial H, which cuts through the Mayfield Ranch neighborhood, the 1431 route affects far fewer homes. Brehm said the 1431 route would directly impact about 10 homes along that route, as well as a convenience store and a church. He said the Arterial H route would directly impact about 150 homes as well as run through the Southwest Williamson County Regional Park.
"This is not our line and ultimately not our decisions; it’s ultimately asking our opinions. Do I want it? No, but if you look at the least worse decision, that’s where [the transmission line] should go."
– Alan McGraw, Round Rock mayor
Residents who spoke against the recommended route moving along 1431 said the council should have recommended a route identified in LCRA documents that would extend northward toward Georgetown, then run east along RM 2243. The route would then connect to the proposed substation by running southward down Ronald Reagan Boulevard.
"I am not sure why that route going up to Ronald Reagan isn’t being discussed," said Tammy Young, a real estate broker whose house backs up to the proposed route. "That’s the route that would impact the fewest homeowners overall. I just beg of you not to support this and to know there are hundreds and thousands of homeowners who will be affected."
Young said her house is one of the 10 directly impacted by the transmission line, but it will ultimately impact more homes in the neighborhood because the 80-foot power lines will be visible from more homes.
Brehm worked with LCRA staff members to research the staff recommended route. He said city staff originally favored the route that went north to 2243, but amended their recommendation because the route could cost the LCRA up to $14 million-$28 million more than the 1431 route, and the PUC considers cost when deciding where to the place the lines.
Furthermore, Brehm said, because the line is a circuit, it would be looped on both sides of of Ronald Reagan Boulevard in Leander. He said Leander officials communicated that was a deal breaker for them.
"We tried to use a collaborative approach with the two other cities and Leander said, 'Why should we get hit twice?'" Brehm said. "Georgetown said they would oppose the 2243 route as well."
Council Member Kris Whitfield, who voted no on the resolution, said she was more worried about the neighborhoods within the city. She said the city should look to see if the extra cost of running the line to 2243 would be spread out over all the LCRA's electricity customers.
"Then it's a little bit more affordable to everyone," she said.
City Manager Laurie Hadley said LCRA officials communicated to city staff that the 2243 route would likely not be considered because of the cost and how indirect the route is in connecting to the proposed substations.
Council Member Frank Leffingwell, who was the other no vote on the resolution, said the council should consider not making any recommendation because they ultimately did not have authority on where the lines went.
Council Member Will Peckham said if the council did not pass a resolution, or passed one recommending the 2243 route that the PUC was unlikely to consider, then the commission would have no input from the city, and could place the lines wherever they wanted.
"They could choose a route that affects many more homes," he said. “I’m not saying any route is good—I live on this route, it’s in my backyard, it’s not great. But if we don’t have a little bit of input they can go wherever they want to.”