Officials gather input for Wirtz Dam bridge

Alexandria Randolph/Highland Lakes Newspapers

Near the site of the proposed Wirtz Dam bridge are, from left, Burnet County Judge James Oakley; Burnet County Commissioner Pct. 4 Joe Don Dockery; Jim Luther unopposed candidate for Pct. 1 commissioner, and Ashby Johnson, executive director of Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO).

By Alexandria Randolph

Highland Lakes Newspapers

 

Residents and commuters now have opportunity to weigh in on the proposed Wirtz Dam, a transportation project that has been in the making since 1974.

The community outreach program for the dam project, which began in September, is the culmination of years of anticipation for Burnet County officials.

“This was on the 1974 Burnet County Transportation Plan,” said Joe Don Dockery, Burnet County Precinct 1 commissioner.

The next step wasn't completed until 2005, when a feasibility study was completed indicating that a bridge at Wirtz Dam would be beneficial to the community.

Following a meeting conducted by CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) on Sept. 9, the campaign for public opinion regarding the Wirtz Dam Bridge is officially underway.

“We've been gathering public information since September, and we'll continue to do that until November. We put together a survey to gather public opinion.,” said Doise Miers, CAMPO Public Information Officer.

Two public hearings are scheduled, one on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at Quail Point in Horseshoe Bay, and another on Thursday, Nov. 3 at Lakeside Pavilion in Marble Falls. Both are scheduled for 4-7 p.m.

The initial meeting held in September was for first responders and local officials only, and helped to determine what factors could be critical to public opinion on the project.

“We invited partners that are decision makers in the community to tell whether these questions are relevant and specific to this area,” she said.

So far, about 150 people have completed the survey, including online and in person survey forms offered at several local events.

The group had a table at the Marble Falls High School Homecoming football game on Friday and the Llano Wild West Weekend on Saturday, as well as a number of other local festivals and meetings of Rotary Clubs and Property Owners Associations.

“We're also surveying people at the local soccer league games,” Miers said. “We wanted to make it as easy as possible – to go to people instead of them coming to us.”

According to preliminary survey results, 45 percent of responders felt the bridge was very beneficial, and another 15 percent felt it would be somewhat beneficial. Just over 10 percent felt the new river crossing at Wirtz Dam would be “not at all beneficial.”

Roughly 85 percent of survey takers use the US 281 bridge to cross Lake Marble Falls, and over 50 percent cited heavy traffic as the primary reason they were discouraged from crossing the river. Limited river crossings came in as the secondary reason, at just over 30 percent.

The survey showed that access to emergency services was a serious concern, with just over 50 percent reporting they felt only “somewhat confident” they could quickly reach or be reached by emergency service personnel on existing north to south routes, compared to 25 percent reporting they felt “very confident.

Currently, there are 12 miles between existing river crossings; the Marble Falls US 281 bridge, and the Ranch to Market Road 2900 bridge in Kingsland.

“How many opportunities are out there that we have a road on both sides of a river but no bridge?” said Oakley at a media event on Friday. “It's a unique opportunity.”

According to CAMPO statistics, the projected population in the Highland Lakes area in 2020 is 53,114. In 2030 the population is expected to jump to 64,268.

As of Friday, there were 77 comments made during the survey.

Miers said a final report of the survey will be distributed to Burnet County and TxDOT officials in December, and it will be available to the public online.

The bridge will be approximately 200 yards long, and it will be located just north of the existing Wirtz Dam, next to the existing low water crossing on Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) property. The crossing needs to be unencumbered for emergency access, officials said Friday.

Burnet County Judge and Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board Member James Oakley said the construction may lead to the relocation of existing PEC power lines.

“The wooden poles are PEC infrastructure and they would need to be relocated. They're at least 50 years old, and considered antiquated anyway,” he said.

The bridge would not effect the ability to release water from the dam, which was one of the conditions of participation by the LCRA.

Greg Haley, a member of the CAMPO Technical Advisory Committee, said the bridge would most likely be designed to include two lanes and shoulders adequate for a vehicle to pull over if necessary.

Haley said at this point, the plan is to “identify the need and possible funding for the project. It will be a joint effort between TxDOT, Burnet County, and CAMPO.”

To take the survey online, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/wirtzdam.

For more information, visit www.campotexas.org/wirtzdamroad. For questions or comments, email wirtzdam@campotexas.org or call 512-234-0204.

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