TxDOT addresses decision in not seeking funding yet for improving RM 620

Amidst an influx in comments and queries about the lack of funding improvements to RM 620 in Northwest Austin, Steiner Ranch and Cedar Park, the Texas Department of Transportation is aiming to put those concerns at ease.

Expanding RM 620 from the Mansfield Dam to US 183—which crosses multiple jurisdictions— was not included in the latest project call for funding for the 2019-22 Transportation Improvement Program by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is the Central Texas region's transportation planning agency.

Of the 239 comments submitted during the public comment period for the plan, 225 were over not including a project on RM 620 north of the dam.

The 2019-22 plan did include funding the expansion of two sections of RM 620 from Hwy. 71 to Oak Grove Boulevard through the cities of Bee Cave and Lakeway. Prior to approval of the plan by CAMPO's board Monday night, Bruce Byron, a project manager with the Texas Department of Transportation’s Austin district, addressed what TxDOT is doing on the northern section.

“Our next challenge is with the north section,” he said. “For those of you who justified your concerns about that, we have not forgotten you, and we have been working constantly on finding a project to get prepared for that area. We could not just get that prepared in time and in the time schedule for this particular funding period.”

Byron said TxDOT is planning to start construction by this fall on one project in that section to make improvements on RM 2222 and add a bypass lane at RM 620 and RM 2222. The city of Austin is providing about $7.5 million for the overall $18 million project as part of its 2016 mobility bond.

“That was our top priority on [RM] 620 because it helps the most people reduce their commute and is the biggest bottleneck on 620 at [RM] 2222,” Byron said. “We believe that project will have significant impact. … The bypass will not only help traffic coming from the south but coming from the north as well.”

The department is also in the process of authorizing two engineering contracts to work on an implementation plan for RM 620 from the dam to US 183, Byron said.

The reason two projects on the southern end of RM 620 in Bee Cave and Lakeway is because those projects will be easier to implement, he said. Bee Cave and Lakeway also provided $5 million each for the work.

“Bee Cave and Lakeway, where most of the congestion lies were anxious to get the project started, even before we had the feasibility study,” Byron said.

TxDOT sat down with elected officials from Travis and Williamson counties and the cities of Austin and Cedar Park in the past week to provide them with an update on what will happen next on the northern section of RM 620.

Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea, whose Precinct 2 includes RM 620 from the dam to Boulder Lane, said it is important for TxDOT to also consider making safety improvements in the interim, such as installing barriers, cables or pylons, that could prevent head-on collisions.

The latest movement and attention to the northern section of RM 620 that has seen a number of serious traffic accidents and deaths in the first half of 2018 is reassuring some residents.

“I am encouraged that we have a lot of momentum building,” said Brian Thompto, chairman for the Steiner Ranch Homeowners Association. “Clearly, the public has been overwhelmed with traffic on [RM] 620.”

However, Thompto said he expects TxDOT to be prepared for the next project call for funding in 18 months and to bring forward a sizeable project with jurisdictions partnering on financing it.

“Ultimately, we’re behind, this whole region is behind,” he said. “For us to be so far behind, and RM 620 to be the poster child for that, and come to this project call and it’s not even in the discussion, that’s where the frustration comes from.”
By Amy Denney

Managing Editor, Austin metro

Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition as well as covering transportation in the Austin metro. She is now managing editor for the 10 publications in the Central Texas area from Georgetown to New Braunfels. She enjoys spending time with her husband, son and two cats.