Officials: Bee Caves Road improvements increase safety

West Lake Hills City Council authorized Mayor Dave Claunch and city staff to begin acquiring right of way along a portion of Bee Caves Road at the council's regular meeting Aug. 28. The acquisition of the right of way is for the planned expansion of the roadway.

The expansion will be implemented by the Texas Department of Transportation using funding from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The project will include widening the roadway to add a center turn lane and adding sidewalks.

The initial phase of the expansion will run from Bulian Lane to the western edge of the Eanes Elementary School property. Claunch said council will make a strong effort to identify more funding for future work. A second phase could run to the Eanes property to the western edge of Western Hills and a potential third phase could complete the project at Red Bud Trail, he said.

"I'm excited to receive the City Council's approval to move forward with this critical infrastructure project," Claunch said. "This represents a significant step toward improving safety and relieving congestion on Bee Caves Road."


West Lake Hills staffers have been in discussion with area property owners for the past two years regarding the potential acquisition. In 2012, City Council adopted a resolution authorizing the mayor to offer a package of redevelopment incentives to the property owners in exchange for donations of right of way, including higher limits on impervious cover and front setback lines.

The city was given TxDOT approval four years ago for the project.

"Once the community was assured it wasn't going to be a superhighway, they galvanized behind the project," Claunch said.

Acquiring right of way

The rights of way that were not donated were purchased by the city. The amount spent by the city on those purchases was not released, but the city's authorization to buy right of way included a cap on the total amount of city funds to be used for the acquisition.

Claunch estimates half of the right of way to complete the project will be purchased by the city, 30 percent will be donated and the final 20 percent will be acquired through eminent domain, a process by which private property can be taken for public use by a government.

Claunch said he expects the right of way for the first phase of the road expansion to be acquired by the end of the year, barring any complications. He said the owners of the purchased land would be given the appraised amount in exchange for right of way, and he said he would have no hard feelings toward businesses that chose to sell instead of donate.

"I own commercial property," he said. "If I were in that situation, I would expect to be compensated for my land."

Safety and timetable

Bee Caves Road in West Lake Hills was identified as one of the most congested roadways in the region by a 2011 CAMPO traffic study.

The study said traffic on the roadway, which currently has two lanes in each direction with narrow shoulders, is compounded when vehicles needing to turn left into businesses or onto other streets block traffic behind them, potentially leading to collisions.

After the right of way is acquired, Claunch said the relocation of utility systems would begin in June 2014 and last about a year. TxDOT would begin principle construction on the roadway in June 2015, he said.

TxDOT Public Information Officer Kelli Reyna said TxDOT anticipates the design process and preparing the project for construction will take 12 to 18 months, but that timetable is largely dependent on the city acquiring right of way and utility relocation.

"There will be mild disruptions during the utility relocations," Claunch said. "But access to businesses will not be blocked for the entirety of the project."

During principal construction on the roadway, Claunch said half the road will be closed for construction, and the other half will be used for one-lane traffic in each direction.

Reyna said the road improvements will increase safety for drivers.

"By adding a continuous center turn lane, it eliminates the turning movements from the main lines of traffic," she said. "This should help prevent rear-end collisions as well as lengthy traffic backups in the through lanes of [Bee Caves Road]."

Reyna said the addition of 4-foot-wide shoulders and sidewalks will help increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists as well.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reshape the community corridor within the city," Claunch said. "These road improvements, along with smart development incentives, will produce a vibrant commercial district nestled in a unique urban forest environment."


Reyna said CAMPO has set aside $5.5 million of the Surface Transportation Program–Metropolitan Mobility funds for the road improvements. This includes $4.4 million in federal funds and $1.1 million in state funds, she said.

Once the right of way has been acquired, utility companies will be required to relocate their equipment outside the right of way. That process is expected to take up to a year, followed by construction of the roadway improvements by TxDOT, Claunch said.