A proposed roadway aimed at reducing the risk of wildfires but would involve cutting through the Balcones Canyonland Preserve in Travis County has ignited opposition from Northwest Austin residents.
District 6 City Councilman Don Zimmerman discussed the proposed Fire Break Parkway at an April 25 town hall meeting at Four Points Middle School.
His agenda included four items, but two items—the 2012 mobility bonds and subsidized housing—were not mentioned, and a discussion about Texas Department of Transportation's study on RM 620 was overshadowed by the proposed Fire Break Parkway.
The proposed parkway, which Zimmerman said would be as wide as Spicewood Springs Road, would begin at Spicewood Springs at Old Lampasas Trail and cut through land protected by Travis County's Balcones Canyon Conservation Plan. The southern end of the roadway would divide at a fork, with one piece ending at River Place Boulevard near the intersection of RM 620 and RM 2222, and the other piece ending near Four Points middle and Vandegrift high schools.
Zimmerman invited Randy Denzer of Austin Firefighters Association to explain the benefits of the proposed cut-through.
Denzer said the road would connect Fire Station 39 on River Place and Fire Station 44 on Four Iron Drive. He said it would allow the two stations to work together for the first time and serve as a corridor for escape. Denzer said he responded to the 2011 Labor Day wildfire in Steiner Ranch.
"We had our hands full, and we couldn't get resources down there to fight the fire," he said. "We're going to have another catastrophic fire in West Austin at some point unless we do something to address our wildfire interface."
Nearly all of the attendees who spoke at the meeting were against the proposal.
"The people who want this road are almost afraid to show up to a meeting like this," Zimmerman said. "I put the odds at about 2 percent of getting that [roadway] done, but we're going to go for it anyway."
Resident Malcolm Brown asked Zimmerman why he did not lobby for a project that has a chance of coming to fruition.
"Why are you going after this?" he said. "There're more important things to be done."
Zimmerman said the proposal was more likely to get approval than other road projects in the area.
After the meeting, Brown called Fire Break Parkway a smoke screen, saying it was really a cut-through to ease traffic congestion.
Another resident asked if wildfire mitigation was truly the purpose then why not keep the road closed unless an emergency occurs.
"If you set it up as a fire break but people aren't using it on a daily basis, it's going to fail because people aren't going to maintain it," Zimmerman said.
The proposed road would fall into Zimmerman's District 6 and Council member Sheri Gallo's District 10. Zimmerman said that although it is not on her list of priorities, he does not believe Gallo is opposed to it.
Gallo did not attend the meeting, but her policy aide for Transportation and Mobility, Tina Cannon, attended. In an email, Gallo said she does not yet have a position on the proposal.
"Prior to making any recommendations, my evaluation process will include thoughtful analysis of environmental and safety impact and listening to input from the surrounding neighbors," Gallo said.