Proponents say second access needed for safety, traffic ease
Pam Waggoner, Leander ISD board of trustees president, and attorney Alan Glen of Sedgwick Law Firm LLP are leading the charge to open a new access point to and from Vandegrift High School and Four Points Middle School. The schools can only be reached from two roadways off RR 2222.
The proposed road is located off Tech Trail on the Balcones Canyonland Preserve and is currently a dirt pathway used as a heavy utility easement for power lines. The anticipated 1-mile-long, 30-foot-wide paved road will stretch behind the schools and across a 1,500-foot strip of land owned by 3M Co. which would need to grant an easement for the construction.
Waggoner said the high number of recent traffic accidents in the area and lack of emergency escape routes to and from the schools led to her decision to form the committee.
Next year, Four Points Middle School is projected to have an enrollment of 700 students and Vandegrift High School is expected to be at 1,800 students, Waggoner said. The same access road used by school traffic is also used by residents of the 289 units at Promesa Apartments located across the street from the high school and by residents of the 350-unit Alexan Ribelin Ranch apartment complex adjacent to the middle school. Austin Baptist Church opened recently in the area and an incoming multifamily complex, The Preserve at Four Points, broke ground within the last month at the intersection of Four Points Drive and River Place Boulevard. A larger housing complex is under construction on RR 2222 near RR 620. Wagner anticipates added traffic congestion from these nearby multifamily housing projects.
"I'm terrified of that morning phone call [from the Austin Police Department], that it's going to be one of the kids [involved in an accident]," said Waggoner, a Steiner Ranch resident and the parent of two children attending the high school. "We hold our breath and start calling our teenage drivers and loved ones [when we hear of accidents]."
Waggoner said that shortly after the 2011 wildfires in the area, she formed a committee to find a solution to the local traffic issues surrounding the school. She called on community leaders including Jimmy Disler, LISD executive director of capital improvements, to help.
The committee was tasked with getting the road approved by numerous local, state and federal agencies. Because of its proposed location in an environmentally protected area, the committee asked for and received the support of Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, the only two voting members of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve Coordinating Committee. Waggoner said 3M is also on board to share the proposed roadway entrance on its property.
Glen, who authored the original Balcones Canyonland Preserve covenants, said that the committee intends to have the project designed to minimize the impact on wildlife.
"[The road] is not only [intended to improve] traffic and convenience for the schools, but it's safety," Glen said. "It would be the fastest way to get first responders to the schools or to get the schools evacuated."
Once the proposal is approved, the committee will design driveways from the road to the campuses. If the proposal is not granted, the committee will seek a permit through the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Glen said.
Disler estimates that should the project proceed to the construction phase, the road will cost between $11 million and $15 million and may include a traffic signal as well. Disler said that LISD may fund part of the roadway with a partnership of other governmental entities including the Texas Department of Transportation and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. However, the school district can't pursue financing options until the easement is granted, Disler said.
Waggoner, Glen and Disler will present the proposal at the Four Points Chamber of Commerce meeting April 18 at 11:30 a.m. at the River Place Country Club.
"Children, students, staff and the business community—it's just too many cars for our one entrance to the area," Waggoner said. "We have to get some relief."