In recent months, a slew of traffic deaths has concerned Morgan Briscoe, president of the West Austin Chamber of Commerce. She helped start a grassroots group called Citizens for a Safer 620 that she hopes can serve as a unified voice to support funding safety improvements such as raised medians and turns lanes.
“People know there’s an issue out here, but the fact that it wasn’t a higher priority given the impact it has everywhere it should be higher up on the radar,” Briscoe said. “My biggest concern is from a safety perspective, so if we can make some small safety changes—medians in the road, signage, blockades for really dangerous intersections—I’ve been pushing for that.”
Concern for safety
Briscoe said the chamber is leading communicating for Citizens for a Safer 620 of how people can get involved to spur change, including contacting local elected officials and taking surveys to let transportation leaders know they want RM 620 to be seen as a priority.
“There’s so many mixed messages out here,” she said. “What we discovered is that people don’t know who runs the roadway and manages it. We wanted to make it really clear what’s going on and what stage [the improvements are] in.”
At an April 9 board meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization—the regional group responsible for transportation planning—several residents and elected officials were surprised to learn that the northern sections of RM 620 were not recommended for funding by CAMPO through its 2019-22 Transportation Improvement Program while the southern segments were.
Randy Lawson, a resident of the Canyon Creek neighborhood off RM 620 in Northwest Austin, said development on RM 620 has included new shopping centers and apartments that are generating more traffic, often causing a 3-mile trip to take 45 minutes.
“They’re not just traffic generators; they’re causing lots of accidents and people are getting hurt,” he said. “I’m here to just implore you to please consider 620 from US 183 all the way to Steiner Ranch, Quinlan Park [Road].”
Brian Thompto, chairman for the Steiner Ranch Homeowners Association, said the region is behind on traffic solutions for mobility and safety on RM 620.
“This project has fallen through the cracks,” he said.
Improving RM 620
The Texas Department of Transportation released its report on RM 620 in February 2017, outlining improvements to address congestion on RM 620, which it divided into six sections. The agency submitted projects from only the two southern sections in Bee Cave and Lakeway to CAMPO’s call for projects for the 2019-22 TIP. Funding would go toward widening the road from four to six lanes and adding a raised median.
The 2019-22 TIP is expected to provide $400 million for Central Texas projects during those four years and includes federally funded and regionally significant projects that will start construction in that timeframe.
Terry McCoy, Austin district engineer, said the department has one project underway on RM 620 at RM 2222 to add a bypass lane to alleviate congestion north of the Mansfield Dam.
“The reason the RM 620 south project was submitted first is because that project can be delivered to construction within the four-year timeframe of the CAMPO program call, and has consensus and financial support from the cities of Bee Cave and Lakeway,” he said in an email.
McCoy said projects on the northern part of RM 620 would not be ready in time to begin construction in 2019-22.
“We continue to coordinate with local officials to discuss future options for the northern portion of RM 620,” he said. “I am confident that through our cooperative efforts in ongoing project development work, we will be in the best position to secure funding for effective projects along the remainder of the corridor with the next program call.”
District 6 Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said he and Precinct 2 Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea met with TxDOT on April 18 to discuss why other sections of RM 620 were not submitted for CAMPO funding.
He said that although there is consensus from leaders that something needs to be done to improve RM 620, there is still debate on what improvements to make. Flannigan said it is not just a lack of additional lanes causing congestion but also the intersections, including at Anderson Mill Road.
His office hears from residents all the time about RM 620 regarding the lack of throughput, accidents, safety issues, numerous driveways and congested intersections. He said it is hard to prioritize all these concerns and welcomes input from residents.
“I don’t think there’s enough attention paid to any issue, and it never hurts to have the community engaged and organized and have robust community conversations on how to move forward,” he said.
The CAMPO board will vote on the final list of projects that will receive funding in the 2019-22 TIP at the May 7 meeting.
More information on Citizens for a Safer 620 is available at www.westaustinchamber.org/620change.
CAMPO is accepting comments through April 30 on its 2019-22 TIP and also has a survey available as part of its Regional Arterials Plan.