On May 23, some Oak Hill community members caught their first glimpse of the proposed design concepts for the Oak Hill Parkway, an environmental study that will investigate potential effects of possible transportation projects at the intersection of West Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 71.
During an open house at Clint Small Middle School, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and Texas Department of Transportation publicly unveiled the concepts, which range from building new intersections and flyovers to leaving the roadways untouched. Residents asked questions including where drivers might merge into traffic using the proposed structures and how the concepts might affect their daily commute and the local business community.
The Mobility Authority and TxDOT developed the ideas based on feedback received during months of community engagement, according to Melissa Hurst, Mobility Authority community outreach manager. Hurst said the team will consider all comments to determine what concepts have the most community support.
"We might be able to eliminate some [concepts] now in terms of how they fit into our purpose and need and into our public input," she said.
Some of the concepts combine similar ideas, said Wade Strong, the parkway's project manager with the Austin-based consulting firm Rodriguez Transportation Group Inc.
"A lot of people are saying they want not a big, huge freeway but a smaller-scale parkway," he said. "And so we developed this—actually, [concepts] B, C and D all kind of have a parkway element to [them] that runs right along the existing [Hwy.] 290."
The concepts are as follows:
- Concept A: A conventional, controlled-access highway with frontage roads and depressed Hwy. 290 lanes underneath Hwy. 71.
- Concept B: A conventional, controlled-access highway with frontage roads, Hwy. 290 lanes west of William Cannon Drive and north of Williamson Creek, frontage roads between William Cannon Drive and the Y at Oak Hill along Hwy. 290, and an intersection for the frontage roads at the Y without direct connector ramps between Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 71.
- Concept C: The same as Concept B, with direct connectors added at the Y intersection.
- Concept D: Two lanes in each direction would be constructed in the center of a controlled-access road design, with access only at either end and at RM 1826. Express lanes would be about 25 feet above the frontage roads and would be separated from the crossing streets. The concept features an intersection for the frontage roads at the Y.
- Concept E-1: The Hwy. 290 lanes would split to become frontage roads, allowing William Cannon Drive to be built into a bridge over Hwy. 290, and a divided boulevard with two lanes in each direction and a wide median is proposed.
- Concept E-2: The Hwy. 290 lanes would split to become frontage roads, allowing William Cannon Drive to be built into a bridge over Hwy. 290.
- 2007 Alternative: The concept of a conventional highway with frontage roads and direct connections at the intersection was developed as part of a previous environmental impact study that expired.
- No-Build Alternative: No further construction after interim improvements at the Y are completed.
There is also Option 1, which can be applied to proposed Concepts A–D. Main lanes of Hwy. 290 would go beneath its intersection with Circle Drive, which would be built into a bridge over the roadway. Residents can provide feedback on videos and details about each of the concepts at www.oakhillparkway.com.
Oak Hill resident Theresa Moran attended the open house and said one of her primary concerns is maintaining neighborhood integrity by preserving oak trees and Williamson Creek. She said she likes that the presented concepts include accessible entrances to local restaurants and grocery stores. She dislikes that the Mobility Authority has not yet identified the funding sources for potential construction, and she said she is uneasy about the prospect of funding the projects with tolls.
"I'm really concerned about the Y," she said. "I don't want to have to pay every time I come out of my neighborhood."
Angela Armitage, a seven-year Oak Hill resident, said she was interested in Concept C but strongly favors the options that would turn William Cannon Drive into a bridge over Hwy. 290.
"That would fix most of the problem for people coming south on [Hwy.] 71 as well as coming east and west on [Hwy.] 290. I think my own preference is that they do that first and see how it goes," Armitage said. "It could be a relatively inexpensive fix, at least for the next number of years, and be the least disruptive to traffic."
However, she noted some community members have said they do not want to see overpasses built because that change could hurt existing businesses on the ground level.
Armitage said she has been involved in previous attempts to find a fix for the traffic congestion at the Y, and the Mobility Authority and TxDOT "have come a long way" with the community outreach that began this year.
Resident Andrew Hartwell said while he appreciates the transportation authorities' efforts to gather community feedback, he doubts the efficiency of the process overall.
"The fact that we're looking at nothing potentially being done for at least three years, I'm just thinking, 'Why hasn't this process ever resulted in a conclusion before now?' Everybody I know says it's been an obvious problem for more than 20 years," he said.
Another public open house will likely be held in the fall, Hurst said.