Proposed county bridge over low water crossing not wanted by many residents of Bee Cave neighborhood

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Residents of the Homestead subdivision in Bee Cave south of Hwy. 71 are working to poll their neighbors regarding a Travis County-proposed bridge on a low water crossing on Great Divide Drive. It’s a piece of infrastructure that some see as necessary to protect against flooding and others say will do more harm than good.

The grassroots effort has intensified following the Jan. 5 issuance of a memo from Travis County Commissioner for Precinct 3 Gerald Daugherty informing residents that they will be receiving a survey consisting of one question: Do households support or not support a bridge recommended by Travis County attorneys, engineers and staff?

“Should you opine favoring the bridge, you are accepting the proposed 500-year flood designed bridge,” the memo states, referring to data recently issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through a historical rainfall study called Atlas 14, which has re-designated 500-year flood plains as 100-year flood plains.

That means 13 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, what was once a 500-year storm, is now classified a 100-year storm, or a storm that has a 1 percent chance of occurring during any given year, according to NOAA.

Many Homestead residents are saying the one-size-bridge-or-nothing option with which they’ve been presented is too extreme and invasive for a neighborhood that prides itself on its rural aesthetic and feel.

Opposition from residents

“I’m not sure I’d refer to it as a bridge as much as I would an overpass,” said Marie Lowman, Homestead resident and Bee Cave City Council member. “That bridge is half the length of Pennybacker Bridge (on Capital of Texas Hwy. in Austin).”

Lowman said for a subdivision in Bee Cave that has 187 households and roughly 600 residents, it doesn’t make sense to build a multi-million-dollar bridge on a roadway that at most supports about 1,000 motorists per day.

“Compared to what those funds could do elsewhere in the county, as a council member I find it fiscally irresponsible, almost reprehensible,” Lowman said.

She added one potential option she would like to see the county endorse that could also serve as a compromise between those on both sides of the issue would be an elevated pedestrian bridge running alongside the low water crossing.

Renderings were sent with the county memo showing the proposed bridge would be between 510 and 570 feet in length with two 2-foot shoulders, two 12-foot lanes and one 5-foot sidewalk. According to the renderings, cars driving on the proposed bridge would be about 18 feet above the lowest part of the creek where the existing low water crossing sits.

Homestead resident Lance Clawson owns property that would be directly impacted by the proposed bridge. Clawson said he consulted with a realtor who informed him his property could devalue anywhere from $200,000-$500,000 if the proposed bridge is installed in place of the low water crossing.

“We will be fine without a bridge,” Clawson said. “The whole issue when all of this started is everyone thought it was going to be this cute little bridge that was raised about two feet where if we were trapped in we wouldn’t be trapped in very long and it wouldn’t be that big of an issue.”

One statistic from county officials that several Homestead residents point out, including Clawson, is that rising waters at the low water crossing force road closures 1.7 times per year on average. To Clawson and others living in the area, that is not enough of an inconvenience to install what they see as an invasive piece of infrastructure.

A long history of division

Daugherty said that he doesn’t want to build anything that Homestead residents don’t want, but the option provided makes the most sense if there is to be a bridge to replace the low water crossing. A major reason the bridge is such a focus is because there is only one entrance and exit to the Homestead, he said.

“I think that if the bridge is going to get built, it will be for the 500-year flood because what we are basically setting up is the Atlas 14 flood plain map that will be coming our way pretty soon,” Daugherty said, adding that a bridge constructed to stand up to a 500-year flood is likely what county engineers will want to impose.

Daugherty said the low water crossing has been an issue for drivers in the area at least since he was elected commissioner in 2002, and that it’s always seemed to him that most people he’s spoken to living in the Homestead don’t want to do anything about the low water crossing.

For the most part, Daugherty said, the county has left the matter alone until 2017, when a Travis County study of high-priority stream crossings and a Nov. 7 passage of a $185 million bond package put the Great Divide low water crossing back on the radar. According to Daugherty the most recent cost estimates for the bridge come in at about $6.2 million, but he said that number is not final.

Shortly after the bond passed, Homestead residents asked Bee Cave City Council to annex the sliver of land encompassing the crossing in order to protect against county enforcement of a bridge. Then, as now, Daugherty said he wanted to come up with a plan that would be accepted by the majority of residents.

The county still owns the low water crossing, and Daugherty’s memo states he wants a 75 percent return rate for his survey from Homestead households. Of those responses he said he wants to see at least 75 percent either for or against the bridge before he would make a motion before the Commissioners Court.

Next steps

Since receiving the memo Saturday, Jan. 12, a group of Homestead residents called Don’t Bridge the Great Divide has begun a neighborhood poll. Committee member Morgan Bender said they aren’t finished gathering responses yet, but so far numbers are aligning overwhelmingly against the proposed bridge.

“The unassuming nature of the Homestead is what we really enjoy,” Bender said. “To completely change that on unwarranted and unnecessary reasons, we don’t think that’s fair to us, nor do we think it’s fair to everyone in the county to be asked to pay for it when the majority of us don’t want it.”

Bender added that she would welcome a bridge, just not one that is so big and invasive. Most people in the neighborhood want a solution, she said, just not that one.

Lowman, Clawson and Bender maintain they don’t want the bridge as it is proposed, but Bee Cave Mayor Monty Parker said he is for it, and lists his primary reason as public health and safety.

“You can argue property values all day long. You can argue convenience and looks, and all of those are arguments, but public health and safety has to trump everything in my opinion because that’s life or death,” Parker said, adding emergency responders including representatives from ESD No. 6 and the Bee Cave Police Department have said a bridge is needed. “I’ve had it thrown at me often that nothing has happened in 35 years. Well, thank god nothing’s happened in 35 years. But that doesn’t mean something can’t happen tomorrow.”

The deadline for residents to return the survey is Jan. 28. Daugherty said he will likely bring the results to the Feb. 5 Commissioners Court meeting, and depending on the results he could introduce a motion to vote on the matter that day.

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15 comments
COMMENT
  1. Mayor Monty Parker is NOT a resident of the homestead, yet he IS advocating a county spend of $30,500 PER household for a bridge.

    • So a public, county wide vote occurred and items on Proposition A that the county staff deemed important based off safety needs was passed overwhelmingly. The residents of the homestead are once again acting entitled and thinking they are smarter than the county. For Marie Lowman to state the bridge will be half the length of the Pennybacker Bridge is false and misleading. Most of the bridge the residents will see will be the top since the pier and beam and abutment are all under to support the top. We aren’t getting a suspension bridge.

      The “statistic” that the low water crossing only floods 1.7 times a year was taken off the neighborhood’s listserve from a proponent against the bridge and just keeps getting passed around like facts now. These are not based on any scientific facts, just neighbors emailing each other if the crossing is flooded. So if it flooded at 2 AM and no one mentioned it, it was never recorded. Plus, not all homes subscribe to the listserve. His name is Councilman Bill Goodwin and is on record as stating he does not support a bridge. He’s been a councilman in Bee Cave since 2005, yet he and Councilwoman Lowman never tried to annex the low water crossing until Nov 14, 2017, exactly 1 week after Proposition A passed and the low water crossing was put on schedule to be fixed by the county. So voted on public officials wanted to change the outcome of an item from a bond. Irony or just plain cronyism as their friends that live in the neighborhood they’ve known for years were the only ones that showed up in support of annexation. This should show readers what type of politicians we have on our council in Bee Cave. Based on their actions we can just overturn any vote we want. Highly undemocratic.

      While Mayor Parker does not live in the homestead, the number $30,500 per household is yet another falsehood some residents like to repeat. All the roads, to include Great Divide Drive where the low water crossing is, are county roads and are used by first responders, delivery drivers, babysitters, family friends, garbage trucks, propane trucks the Post Office, etc. Once again, this shows how the neighborhood thinks selfishly only about themselves. Many are retirees and have the luxury of not driving for days. LTISD is responsible for 74 students that live in the homestead and if they can’t cross, parents and children have to wait while the school has to keep our hard working teachers later to help and schedules have to be rearranged, something all parents can understand when unforeseen events occur.

      There will soon be a massive shopping center at the NE corner of Great Divide and HWY 71 called the Villages at Spanish Oaks (they don’t want of course and tried to get the developer to CHANGE a traffic light just for them so they could keep making dangerous left turns onto HWY 71 and not be inconvenienced) and without sidewalks for teens who will most likely get jobs there they will be in harm’s way as the current road is now.

      What Commissioner Daugherty has done is turn a simple Bond that was passed by Travis County voters 73% to 27% and made it about these entitled homestead neighbors that are selfish. He has also made it a major liability for the County since the bridge was put on the bond due to safety in the first place. All the residents of the homestead had a chance in 2017 during the Citizen Bond Advisory Committee from March 9, 2017 through August 3, 2017 yet only 5 out of all these homestead residents could take the time via survey or actually attending a meeting to vote and the vote was 2 against a bridge (Councilman Goodwin was one) and 3 for a bridge. But now everyone is up in arms after the fact that they lost the vote and are getting a bridge that doesn’t quite suit their taste. One sad thing is that most of the residents rely on a few others for info and if they were to educate themselves about how the system works, the renderings sent out were a basic bridge since it will change during the design phase where the community will be able to work with the design engineers to help keep the country feel. But more than likely, most won’t and will just complain. Just like the did about the Galleria. The Shops at the Galleria. The Hill Country Indoor. Anything that is progress. . All one has to do is drive through the the neighborhood and see how dated it is. Or go on Realtor.com….

      The Court has no option other than passing this bridge as is since Atlas 14 is the new standard, like it or not, climate change believer or not. The low water crossing was ranked #5 worst back in 2009 when Travis County conducted its Basin Drainage Study. It currently sits at #3 but even though this community hates change, as long as it benefits them they are good with it, democratic values be damned.

  2. Robert, interesting opinions you have as an outsider of The Homestead, once a rural community neighborhood that has now been surrounded by commercial development. It’s interesting that your opinion is that homesteaders feel entitled, but as a long time resident of living in the homestead, I can try to preserve the rural residential feel of our neighborhood. New and improved is not necessarily better. The homestead was shown several options of a bridge, but we were asked to vote on either the largest option, or no bridge. No mention of an opportunity to be a part of a committee to help with the design. Yes, the bond was passed for $4M. Now, the cost is $6.2 million. Where does the county get the $2M extra dollars? Taxpayers. So, there are many flaws with the process and potential outcome.

  3. I was at the same council meeting and no renderings of bridges were shown. The options were sizes based on 2, 10, 25, 100, and 500 year floods superimposed over a google map pic from above. And all prior to the county adopting the Atlas 14 model which saves the taxpayer money in the long run. If you feel a bridge is what makes your neighborhood rural then I feel sad for you. My family, God, neighbors and good friends are what define my community is. Not something I will drive over in 10 seconds. I have many friends there that feel the same as I do but won’t speak out for fear of being bullied. You also have to understand that you can’t stop progress or change especially when you’re discussing the Villages at Spanish Oak right outside your doorstep. Even though you saw a fake bridge, your new bridge is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to have sidewalks, something the homestead doesn’t even have now. You will not be asked to be part of any design committee until this gets passed by the court and a bid is put out for a design firm. This is when your neighborhood gets involved with designing a “rural” bridge with a little help from Commissioner Daugherty to make sure this happens. And the next step would be for another bid for someone to build the bridge. This goes back to my original statement of people relying on others for facts. Your low water crossing bridge was chosen for a reason and I would guess safety and liability for the county are at the forefront. God bless and I hope your neighborhood heals after your bridge is built.

    • Robert’s quotes:
      “your bridge”, “your neighborhood”

      Robert, you talk as an outsider, not someone who has become an integral part of that neighborhood you purport to care about

  4. Not all “progress” is good. A swing of 10 votes in a Bee Cave Council election not that many years ago would have put an anti-growth majority in charge. No Galleria. No Shops.

    Bridge is a waste of money. And a monstrosity. Vote no, fellow Homeateaders.

  5. Penny Baker Bridge is 1,150 feet. Proposed Homestead Bridge is 510-570 feet. (see rendering provided by county where length is explicitly stated)

    James, wait, I mean Robert, how is this false?

  6. Robert’s quote:
    “items on Proposition A that the county staff deemed important based off safety needs”

    How could county staff determine the Great Divide LWC is unsafe if they have never monitored this LWC and no accident or death has ever been reported at this LWC in the 30 years it has existed?

    • The whole purpose of Proposition A items was all about safety items that were studied for years by the county. Drainage, bridges and sidewalks. All liabilities. You never once tried to annex the low water crossing did you as a Councilwoman since 2014? It is basically the ONLY plot of land not owned by Bee Cave but you never expected the county to beat you to the punch to fix a safety issue so now you and all your fellow homestead friends are mad. Funny how Proposition A was passed on Nov 7th 2017 and then your fellow Councilman Bill Goodwin decided to try to finally annex the crossing the very next week! Wow! And he’s been on the council since 2005! And you went on record against the bridge. Is this a coincidence or did a couple of Bee Cave politicians finally get exposed as being not for the city of Bee Cave but only to help their friends in the homestead?

  7. So The Rule of Law does not apply here?? Setting a potentially very dangerous precedent… A public and legal vote occurred and passed. I am a resident of the Homestead and one of many who has stayed quiet on the group email. I care about safety and this LWC has gone too long without being addressed. The louder the opposition yells thinking they are helping their cause the greater attention this safety issue is brought to light. Anyone who thinks all of the numerous public officials who are receiving a barrage of emails, calls etc from both sides are going to look the other way and dismiss this, well, I have a bridge to sell you…

    Council member Lowman says it would be “fiscally irresponsible” to move forward with a bridge. What is more fiscally responsible than safety? How much is even one life lost at any knowingly dangerous LWC worth? The Great Divide Dr LWC is a known safety issue. TxDoT recently paid a family $5M following a lawsuit due to negligence. Here is a link to the article: https://www.kvue.com/article/news/local/txdot-to-pay-family-5m-after-father-son-die-in-crash-near-austin-in-2016/614087965

    “A jury found that TxDOT authorities knew the area was dangerous and found the agency didn’t take action to prevent crashes, according to the court documents.”

    All Proposition items were put on the ballot knowingly by the Commissioners Court at the recommendation of County staff who have already researched and done their due diligence. If or when an injury or fatality occurs at any of the eight LWCs on Proposition A– or any of the other Roadway, Drainage, Bridge, Bicycle, and Pedestrian Projects also passed– every comment, email, article and conversation will become part of legal Discovery and members of the Commissioners Court and other Officials will be deposed for the enormous lawsuit(s) that will undoubtedly follow.

    The liability is simply too great.

    • Quote from your link:
      “Manor police reportedly told TxDOT about the dangerous wet weather crash history along U.S. 290 in that area”

      So your assertion is a false equivalency.
      There is no crash history at the Great Divide LWC – not in wet or dry conditions
      In fact there have been NO crashes at this LWC.
      No-one can held liable for something that cannot be proven

      • I (and my attorney) disagree. The purpose of ALL of the Proposition A items are to address known safety issues. How are they known? The County did extensive research and top projects were put on the bond. Which has already been voted on and approved. A “neighborhood survey” put out by an overreaching politician will not change anything because no facts regarding this safety issue have changed.

        Just because an injury has not occurred (yet) or a death has not occurred (yet) does not lessen or negate liability. There are way too many eyes on this and the County would be held negligent if/when something bad happens. There is no possibility they look the other way and ignore this LWC. And by the way, it was the Commissioners Court that put all bond items on Proposition A and B, so why would they vote against themselves??

  8. Robert,

    You are correct, I went on the record being against the bridge. (opening of the second paragraph in this article) It is far too much money benefiting far too few people, with no quantifiable positive impact. There has never been an incident at this low water crossing in 40 years, yet one mile down the road there were 66 accidents at the corner of Hamilton Pool Rd. and Highway 71 in 2018. Wouldn’t tax payer dollars be better allocated addressing know issues versus speculative paranoia?

    You are suggesting ALL Travis County tax payers should pay to fix something the majority of beneficiaries don’t recognize as a significant issue? Turn around don’t drown is something us Homesteaders are pretty good at:)

    I do not support the county spending 6.1 million dollars on a bridge that serves less than .05% of the population. And that is being exceptionally conservative. (calculated with the assumption that each household has 30 people coming in and out in a given day) I am not mad, but I will be extremely disappointed should the county opt to issue this debt, as should any tax paying constituents in Travis County whose commissioners would vote to support this expenditure.

  9. So which of the 26 Prop A safety projects do you think are worth it then? And that is not a money question, but a lives question. I don’t have kids yet I pay school taxes. Should I just stop? I will never once step foot in the Bee Creek Sports Complex that was on Prop B for $24 million so maybe you can start a petition using your position as a Councilwoman in Bee Cave to have that money used to fix the HPR and HWY 71 problem. That’s a meaningful allocation you can use. And take the $8 million for the Northeast Metro Park Soccer Field Improvements. Do kids really need synthetic grass? So yes, I am suggesting ALL Travis County tax payers should pay for ALL the Prop A and B bonds because that’s how societies get things done. It’s funny how quickly we forget how old the low water crossing is at Great Divide Drive yet the residents don’t want a the fix the County says they need.

    The average family will pay about $24 per year for a safer community. Sounds like a bargain to me.

    https://www.traviscountytx.gov/2017-bond-calculator

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Brian Rash
Brian has been a reporter and editor since 2012. He wrote about the music scene in Dallas-Fort Worth before becoming managing editor for the Graham Leader in Graham, Texas, in 2013. He relocated to Austin, Texas, in 2015 to work for Gatehouse Media's large design hub. He became the editor for the Lake Travis-Westlake publication of Community Impact in August 2018.
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