As school bus staffing shortages put more stress on major roadways, cities continue to work at the local level on regional traffic safety solutions, Bee Cave and Lakeway city officials said.

Lake Travis ISD was down 39 bus drivers at the start of the school year, resulting in major shifts to bus routes. Students that live within 2 miles of the district no longer receive bus service, according to the district.

“With the lack of bus drivers, the bus services are staggered, so most kids that could normally ride a bus can only ride every other week,” Bee Cave Police Chief Brian Jones said. “Those parents are having to drive their kids to and from school. Bus shortages have meant more children are walking home from school.”

As a result, intersections near schools such as Hwy. 71 and Hamilton Pool Road are getting more backed up, and residents are feeling the pain of the traffic, he said.

To increase safety on roads and prevent potential accidents, parents have been resourceful in developing their own solutions to these problems.

For instance, the Rough Hollow Parent Teacher Organization created its own signup sheet for parents to volunteer as crossing guards, and parents are setting up alternative pickup arrangements, Rough Hollow PTO President Natalia Mack said.

“Traffic concerns affect all families in our community. For those of us who live within a two-mile radius, it creates additional stress to have to come up with alternate arrangements every other week and wait in traffic,” Mack said. “In spite of that, the community has creatively addressed most of these issues by coming up with carpooling arrangements.”

Limited roadway control

Back-to-school traffic is only part of the issue, however, Jones said. Cities are working within their means to ease traffic woes but ultimately have limited control over their major roadways.

The roadways in Lake Travis-Westlake are controlled by various jurisdictions, making coordination no small feat, Lakeway Assistant City Manager Joseph Molis said.

Hwy. 71, RM 620 and Hamilton Pool Road are state-owned roads managed by the Texas Department of Transportation. Local collector roadways, such as Serene Hills Drive in Bee Cave and Lakeway Boulevard in Lakeway, are controlled by their respective cities.

TxDOT initially planned to work on improvements to RM 620 between Hwy. 71 and Hudson Bend Road, but funding was pulled in 2020 to support I-35 improvements, effectively halting the project indefinitely.

Once pursued, the proposed plans will address safety and mobility concerns along this section of RM 620 by widening the existing four-lane roadway to a six-lane roadway and adding raised medians, among other improvements.

Although similar traffic and safety concerns exist for Hwy. 71, there are no planned improvements for the roadway, TxDOT Public Information Officer Bradley Wheelis said.

Hamilton Pool Road has been undergoing construction in segments since December as the state seeks to widen the narrow roadway.

"Not only is [Hamilton Pool Road] under construction, all the kids when there is no bus service have to be dropped off by their parents in a vehicle,” Jones said. “You can imagine that makes for a pretty long line of vehicles trying to get to school.”

Other projects

In response to the delays in RM 620 improvements, Bee Cave and Lakeway were sent back to the drawing board to find answers for their growing traffic problems.

Increasing traffic on roadways such as RM 620 and Hwy. 71 inevitably result in backup on collector roads as well, Jones said. This has pushed city planners to look at local road plans for solutions.

Lakeway has sought out a variety of solutions to alleviate traffic and safety concerns, such as extending Main Street or Birrell Street to open alternative travel routes from RM 620. The city will hold a $17.47 million bond election in November for several essential road projects, including road resurfacing and construction, right-of-way acquisition for RM 620, traffic signalization projects and pedestrian safety improvements.

“Right now our sticking point is [RM] 620. I think that by far eclipses all the other issues,” Molis said. “The city is proposing a transportation bond in November, and there are a couple of projects that will lead directly to [alleviation on RM 620].”

Future project considerations from the city may also add stoplights at critical intersections such as Flint Rock Road and Wild Cherry Drive, which coincides with a residential development and medical center, Molis said.

Traveling along Flint Rock allows residents to go from Lakeway to Bee Cave without having to face the inevitable buildup where RM 620 and Hwy. 71 meet, but residents have raised concerns about high levels of traffic on the road.

Additionally, the city will complete studies on Serene Hills Drive to address concerns about speeding and traffic build up at the Serene Hills and Flint Rock intersection, Molis said.

“We’ve done some traffic studies on [Flint Rock] to look at the volume and capacity of the road. Our engineer tells us that, as of now, the road does have the capacity,” Molis said. “But as part of our long-term thoroughfare plan, we do show that road being widened to a four-lane road.”

LTISD is also anticipating completion of its Vail Divide extension in early 2023, which will allow residents to access Hamilton Pool Road through a road near Bee Cave Middle School instead of waiting at the light at the intersection on Hwy. 71, according to the district. Upon completion, TxDOT will hand the project over to Travis County for continued maintenance.

However, the problem extends beyond the realm of far western Travis County. A TxDOT project to improve safety and mobility on Loop 360 recently began. TxDOT plans to improve nine intersections that collectively will provide congestion relief along the road.

The next planned step of the project is set to begin in 2026 and includes work at the intersection at RM 2222, including a new diverging diamond interchange. Work began at Westlake Drive and Cedar Street in June to remove traffic signals on the Loop 360 mainlanes and add an underpass at both locations.

Developing solutions

Although coordination between so many entities for safety improvements may be difficult, it is possible, as shown by Lakeway and Bee Cave’s approach toward handling school traffic, Jones and Molis said.

In Lakeway, the city has worked to build close connections with its area engineer for TxDOT to work on roads such as RM 620 by building additional turn lanes and managing traffic light timing. Similarly, the city is building relationships at the county level to address problems with roads having both county and city jurisdiction, such as Flint Rock, Molis said.

For Bee Cave, working with TxDOT on signal optimization at key intersections has alleviated a significant amount of traffic by making the lights turn quicker, Jones said. Additionally, the city is working to gain full control of its traffic signals, he said.

“If we have more autonomy over the lights, we can see where traffic is becoming congested at certain times and adjust those lights ourselves to get traffic flowing more easily,” Jones said.