Information from the Texas Department of Transportation as of late May shows while traffic counts along Hwy. 71 where it meets RM 620 in western Travis County have risen steadily from 2014 to 2020, the death rate on that road has also dropped substantially in that same time period.
The numbers, taken from TxDOT’s Crash Records Information System and other department databases, show in 2014, the average daily traffic count on that intersection stood at 36,788 automobiles. So far through the end of May, 2020 numbers show an average daily traffic count of 59,926.
In the same time period from 2014-20, TxDOT data shows the average death rate along the roughly 15-mile stretch of Hwy. 71 from Southwest Parkway to the Blanco County line showed gradual increases until 2018, when it peaked at 0.154 deaths per day. By the end of 2019, that rate had dropped to 0.019 deaths per day.
Also of note, crashes per week on that stretch of Hwy. 71 dropped from 3.538 in 2018 to 2.143 so far in 2020, and for those same parameters, injuries per week dropped from 1.442 to 0.619.
Greg Short, the president of Safer71, a traffic safety advocacy group formed in 2018 following the death of a western Travis County resident on Hwy. 71, said he commends several entities for their work in helping to diminish traffic accidents along that road, including the Bee Cave Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety and Travis County Precinct 3 Constable Stacy Suits.
“We’re real pleased with the efforts out here,” Suits said of traffic enforcement along Hwy. 71 and added the time period from late March to early April is an anomaly in terms of limited officer presence because there were fewer cars on the road due to the onset of restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We backed off for a couple of weeks because we didn’t have enough [personal protective equipment] ... but we do now. Traffic counts are up, and we’re writing anywhere from 12 to 20 tickets per day per deputy.”
Suits said that rate of citation represents an increase that has been helped by a Travis County-funded pilot program that in late 2019 assigned two deputies to Hwy. 290 from Austin city limits to the Hays County line and added a deputy to Hwy. 71 from the Bee Cave's western city limits to the western edge of Travis County.
Short, who on behalf of Safer71 presented the TxDOT data to Bee Cave City Council, said as of May 28 there have been zero deaths in 365 days on that stretch of Hwy. 71, and the officer enforcement presence has had an enormous impact on that figure.
Short said Safer71 played a pivotal role in helping secure the funding for Travis County's safety pilot program, which amounted to a $530,290 allocation in its 2019-20 budget, and he is grateful to be seeing positive results come from the effort.
Adding context to the increased officer presence and enforcement on Hwy. 71, Suits also emphasized the increase in citations is not a result of ticketing motorists for minor violations.
“We’re writing up people [who are] going a lot over the speed limit,” Suits said. “Which means they’re weaving in and out of traffic, and they’re not able to stop at stop lights ... because they’re driving too damn fast.”
Despite higher traffic counts, Hwy. 71 in western Travis County is trending safer
Data shows Hwy. 71 has become safer, including the number of crashes and injuries per week, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)