Traffic congestion on US 281 needs to be addressed

By LEW K. COHN

The Highlander

Managing Editor

I listened with interest to the presentation last week on the City of Marble Falls' comprehensive plan, which has been updated through the work of Halff Associates along with the City Council, Economic Development Committee and a Comprehensive Plan Action Committee (CPAC).

One of the more interesting topics which came up as Robert Halff presented the plan was traffic and transportation through Marble Falls, especially on the U.S. Highway 281 corridor. I was especially encouraged when I heard discussion about the possible development of alternate routes to US 281.

Our most important road through Marble Falls is also our most congested one. I am sure I do not have to remind you what it is like to drive in either direction, north or south, during morning rush hour, at lunch or in the afternoon when school has let out for the day.

There are a high number of vehicles of all shapes and sizes on the highway, and while the new bridge over Lake Marble Falls is a fantastic improvement which has helped carry traffic into the downtown area and beyond, but it is interesting to note that it is currently the only crossing over the Colorado River for 20 miles downstream towards Austin and 10 miles upstream towards Kingsland.

After traveling northbound across the bridge, traffic becomes a problem once drivers pass Third Street and the historic downtown area. Stop lights along US 281 seem to have no rhyme or reason as to the length of time they stay on green or red. Traffic flow is interrupted constantly because of the space, or lack thereof, between the traffic lights.

Throw into the mix a lot of through highway traffic from 18-wheelers and other large vehicles and Marble Falls has as much congestion on US 281 for a town its size as Houston or Dallas do on their interstate highways during peak traffic times.

That traffic is especially heavy at the intersection of US 281 and Mission Hills Drive/Mormon Mill Drive, which is considered to be the most dangerous intersection in the city, and at the intersection of US 281 and Ranch-to-Market Road 1431. These were identified during an earlier public input session as intersections of concern by residents, as were US 281 and Gateway N (2147) and US 281 and Second Street.

That was why I was glad to see that the comprehensive plan includes initatives to seek a bypass around the city with a new bridge crossing to divert heavy traffic off US 281 and a bridge crossing over Lake Marble Falls on Wirtz Dam road.

In fact, the Burnet County Comprehensive Transportation Plan, adopted in 2010, already calls for a proposed bypass to the east of US 281 that would have its own crossing over Lake Marble Falls and would be able to reroute heavy and hazardous truck traffic out of the neighborhood or downtown areas of Marble Falls.

Projections of growth in Marble Falls indicate more growth may take place especially along Texas Highway 71 near the new Baylor Scott & White Hospital and Specialty Clinic and along US 281 from Marble Falls City limits to Texas 71. As a community we need to be proactive and prepared for this growth before it happens, because it is going to happen.

We need to try to plan for transportation needs that route away from US 281 and away from downtown Marble Falls, not because we are trying to do away with the downtown area as a place of viability, but because we must see that our growth as a city will require adjustment of our transportation needs.

We will never be able to fully reduce traffic counts along US 281 because of its importance as a major transportation artery, but by looking to the future and getting some of the heavier traffic off the road, we may be able to make it a safer drive for Burnet County residents and visitors.

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