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Stories to look out for in 2019: As western Travis County grows, so do traffic woes

Stories to look out for in 2019: As western Travis County grows, so do traffic woes

For some residents of Sweetwater, a group a number of miles west of Bee Cave off Hwy. 71, the necessity for activism got here following a late October traffic fatality.

Michael James Babineaux, who lived in Sweetwater, died in a automotive wreck on Hwy. 71. He was touring eastbound, and one other car touring west misplaced management, skidded into oncoming traffic and collided with him, ensuing in his demise. He was 36.

This was the breaking level for Greg Brief, who lives in the identical neighborhood that Babineaux did.

“After the most recent death, which directly impacted us here in Sweetwater … a number of us got together to discuss what we want to accomplish,” Brief stated. “We don’t want to move, but at the same time we feel like we’re stuck—the only way in and out of our communities being a road that people are dying on.”

In accordance to the newest statistics from the Texas Division of Transportation, fatalities from vehicle accidents alongside Hwy. 71, from the place it splits with Hwy. 290 to the place it intersects with Hwy. 281 at Marble Falls, totaled seven in 2018. The earlier yr the quantity was three.

That statistic mixed with Babineaux’s dying led to Brief forming a citizen traffic security group referred to as Safer71. It is only one instance of group activism happening in the Lake Travis-Westlake space that focuses on traffic security.

As the inhabitants of western Travis County grows, residents, transportation officers and law-enforcement officers are ramping up discussions and methods to mitigate traffic-related incidents.

Security methods for Hwy. 71 and past

Bee Cave Police Chief Gary Miller met with Brief throughout a chat with Mayor Monty Parker and Metropolis Supervisor Clint Garza virtually instantly after the early November formation of Safer71. The assembly was centered on heightened security on Hwy. 71.

Three of the 5 deadly accidents in Bee Cave since 2015 have been on Hwy. 71, Miller stated.

He added Bee Cave is a metropolis with a inhabitants of about 7,000-Eight,000, but roughly 40,000 automobiles move by way of it per day driving alongside Hwy. 71.

“It would be hard to find another city of 7,000 with the traffic we have,” Miller stated. “There is heavy rush-hour traffic in the mornings with people heading east into Austin and in the afternoons with people heading west.”

Coupled with that, Miller stated heavier traffic leads to delays, which lead to driving behaviors that may end result in accidents.

Sweetwater resident and Safer71 member Karen Schultz stated she is accustomed to how a lot western Travis County has grown in the final a number of years. Prior to dwelling in Sweetwater, she lived in the Bee Cave and Lakeway areas for 23 years.

Schultz stated a number of methods are wanted to assist mitigate traffic issues, together with infrastructure enhancements and elevated patrolling.

Although not in her particular part of Hwy. 71, efforts are underway in the Bee Cave portion to improve law-enforcement presence on the thoroughfare.

The Bee Cave Police Division was lately awarded a grant by way of TxDOT that kicked in for the 2018-19 finances yr. It’s referred to as a Selective Traffic Enforcement Program, or STEP, grant, and Miller stated it funded additional time for his officers to heighten their presence at Bee Cave’s busiest intersections all year long.

“It’s not a tremendous amount of money,” he stated. “It’s about $11,000 over the fiscal year, but it is a step in adding visibility and hopefully reducing accidents along Hwy. 71.”

Up to date infrastructure and different measures

Brief stated Safer71’s philosophy is three-pronged and invokes engineering, enforcement and schooling. It’s a format he stated he adopted from TxDOT. One of many objectives of Safer71 is to enhance safety-boosting infrastructure alongside the freeway.

Brief stated since partaking in additional talks with TxDOT officers, he realizes that including dividers or medians is far more of long-term aim that includes reclassifying Hwy. 71, however he stated he’s happy with ongoing conversations with TxDOT relating to traffic considerations.

District Engineer for TxDOT Austin Terry McCoy concurred that at this level concrete obstacles aren’t possible for West Hwy. 71 for many causes, together with the constant improve in improvement in the world in addition to the existence of driveways on both aspect of the street.

McCoy stated that not at all is TxDOT not dedicated to making Hwy. 71 safer, however all issues for street enhancements have to come on a case-by-case foundation and contain particular points and considerations similar to accidents and topography, all of which tally right into a method for which roads are allotted which updates.

“There are plans for [Hwy.] 71, but none of them include a concrete barrier down the middle of [Hwy.] 71,” McCoy stated. “We have several different resurfacing projects that we’re working on. We accelerated that work from 2020 and let that this past summer in 2018.”

TxDOT can also be engaged on tasks for Hwy. 71 that run west up to Spicewood, together with asphalt enhancements and the development of a center flip lane persevering with west. McCoy stated these operations rely as security and enchancment tasks, and that one thing as seemingly easy as a center flip lane can add a lot to the security of a high-speed thoroughfare, together with offering a protected haven for drivers turning left.

“The other thing it does is it provides a separation from opposite directions of travel as well,” McCoy stated. “So, you have a 12- to 14- foot separation between folks going east and folks going west.”

Security activism additional north

For Lakeway resident Dennis Hogan, it was the Nov. 16 demise of David Case that acquired him shifting on traffic security.

Case was on his bicycle on the intersection of Lohman’s Crossing and RM 620 when a person in a truck hit him Nov. three, severely injuring him to the purpose that he ultimately died.

Hogan stated he knew and favored Case, who labored on the Randalls in Lakeway and held a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology.

“I had not been campaigning for traffic safety prior to that,” Hogan stated. “But I got to thinking about it, and like everyone else, I use a car to drive, and I see people in my neighborhood walking their dogs, and they’ve got black on and no lights or reflective clothing, and it’s very hard to see them.”

Hogan doesn’t but have a proper group with regard to driver and pedestrian security outreach in Lakeway, however he has been talking at metropolis conferences in an effort to ramp up consciousness and push for an initiative that encourages pedestrian use of reflective, vibrant clothes.

Due in half to Hogan’s efforts, officers at the moment are wanting into how to assist unfold consciousness. Lakeway Public Info Officer Devin Monk up to date Metropolis Council at its Dec. 17 assembly, stating that he has been engaged on discovering info on reflective put on and distracted driving.

Monk reported, amongst different findings, that there are a whole lot of distracted drivers in the town, and high-visibility gear mixed with movement helps alert drivers.

For Hogan, Brief, Schultz and McCoy, a serious element of ramping up traffic security includes private duty.

Lakeway Police Chief Todd Radford agrees private duty is essential for combatting distracted and different types of dangerous driving in addition to sustaining the general security of residents.

“We are getting a lot more people in this area—increased population density, increased traffic density,” Radford stated. “Individuals have to decide that they’re driving a 5,000-pound deadly weapon. When you’re doing that, you have to be diligent and pay attention to the rules of the road.”

Radford additionally stated citizen involvement like Hogan’s is useful and helps convey wanted consideration to the difficulty of traffic security.

“I truly want to see everyone be safe on the roads and their families to be safe, and I don’t like the idea of having to over-legislate when it simply comes down to taking an extra moment, an extra second to just be safer,” Radford stated.

Subsequent steps

Within the time since Safer71 started, members have met with many officers in the Lake Travis space, together with mayors, metropolis managers, county commissioners, TxDOT and Capital Space Metropolitan Planning Group representatives, and law-enforcement officers.

Brief stated the primary objective for Safer71 is to proceed partaking in trilateral talks with the county and TxDOT in addition to working with each entities to develop an informative town-hall-type presentation that may be prepared by spring 2019.

Throughout a gathering with Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty and TxDOT early in December, Brief stated Safer71 mentioned improved signage for upcoming traffic alerts, switching from yield-left turns to green-arrow-only flip lanes and including acceleration and deceleration lanes at sure intersections, amongst different requests.

Brief stated Safer71 ought to hear again from officers quickly about timelines for a number of the simpler requests.

In Lakeway, Hogan stated he’s hoping to flip his activism into a big sufficient group of individuals that would marketing campaign for efficient change surrounding pedestrian and vehicular security.

“It’s something that has to build and evolve, but it takes people to do that,” Hogan stated.

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