Brouhaha brewing over proposed RM 1431 change

Phil Reynolds/The Highlander

Llano County Precinct 2 Commissioner Linda Raschke, left, explains a Texas Department of Transportation plan to change Ranch Road 1431 from a four-lane highway in Llano County to a two-lane road with turn and passing lanes. Precinct 3 Commissioner Mike Sandoval, whose precinct also would be affected by the project, is at right; County Judge Mary Cunningham is seated in the background.

 

 

By Phil Reynolds

The Highlander

A revolution may be brewing in Llano County over what some residents perceive as an unneeded and unwanted change to Ranch to Market Road 1431 and an attitude bordering on contempt for local officials by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

At issue is a plan to change the ranch road from four lanes to what is known as a “super two” highway – one lane in each direction with intermittent turn lanes and passing lanes where engineers think they’re needed. The approximately 30 miles of Texas 71 between US 281 south of Marble Falls to Texas 16 in Llano is an example of that type of highway.

However, the existing 8-1/2 miles of RM 1431 from the Colorado River bridge in Kingsland to Texas Spur 261 is now a four-lane highway except for a few hundred feet just north of the bridge, where the road narrows to accommodate the two lanes of the bridge itself. Of that 8-1/2 miles, about 1-1/2 miles from the bridge through Kingsland to RM 2545 also includes a center turn lane.

County Judge Mary Cunningham, Precinct 2 Commissioner Linda Raschke and Precinct 3 Commissioner Mike Sandoval met with more than 50 residents Tuesday evening at what was called a commissioners’ workshop.

The time is normally one when Sandoval meets with residents in an open house environment, but Cunningham attended as county judge, and Raschke was there because part of the highway proposal will affect her precinct.

“For the last five or six years, … our main project, our first choice, was Highway 29,” Cunningham said, referring to the state road between RM 1431 and Llano. She cited crashes on that stretch as well as farm tractor traffic and an increasing number of semi-trailers as a reason for wanting the highway expanded from its current two lanes.   

“For some reason, in the plan that (TxDOT) gave us last week or so put that as number 14 and put the top project as a super 2 through Kingsland on (RM) 1431,” she said. 

“I had never heard this before.”

She said TxDOT told her they had looked at all the undivided four-lane highways in the (12-county) Capital Area Council of Governments region and identified the ones that had little or no shoulders.

“Number one, it’s not an expensive project, so I think to them it makes it look like they’re doing something,” Cunningham said. 

“Basically what they’ll be doing is re-striping (RM 1431), not in Kingsland proper, that will remain the same. But it sounds like once you get out … they tell me where there are lots of driveways and entries to the highways, they’ll put in intermittent turn lanes and … it’s just one lane in either direction, and the shoulders will be much wider. That way if people go off the highway, they’ll have a place to go.”

She emphasized that the decision to do the project was not made by TxDOT Area Engineer Cathy Kratz in Burnet, but by engineers at TxDOT headquarters in Austin.

Cunningham called the decision a “frightening” example of “bureaucracy control… they make decisions with very little input from the rest of us, the people who live here and drive these roads every day ... they decide which is best, in this case it’s coming out of Austin.”

But responding by e-mail to questions from The Highlander, TxDOT spokesperson Diann Hodges wrote: “This is a safety project. Safety projects typically do not solicit public involvement due to addressing safety needs with a very specific scope of work and finding available to address the needs.”

“I think that we need to have the two lanes with a divided lane all the way out to Slab Road (Ranch Road 3404), Sandoval said as the meeting drew to a close.

Hodges wrote that Texas 29 has not been put on a back burner, but remains an actively-considered project.

“We have SH 29 from RM 1431 to (the) Llano city limit set up for plan development now, with a target bid year of 2021,” she wrote. “It will be widened to a super two roadway as well. RM 1431 is a good candidate for the change based on traffic volumes and lower set speed limits.”

Sandoval encouraged residents to send e-mail messages to one of the consultants for the Council of Governments, Julie Montgomery (jmontgomery@capcog.gov), and said he had tried to find the e-mail address for TxDOT District Engineer Terry McCoy but that it wasn’t listed on the TxDOT Web page.

“It’s Terry.McCoy@txdot.gov,” Raschke responded.

“We have to stick together. Can we change it? I hope so,” Sandoval said.

But Hodges didn’t hold out much hope for that.

“We always welcome public input, but when it comes to improving safety on our roadways, we must do what is best to keep the traveling public safe,” she wrote.

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