TxDOT agrees to reconsider RM 1431 restriping project

 

Phil Reynolds/The Highlander

A Llano County crowd nearly fills the 500-capacity sanctuary at Kingsland’s First Baptist Church to hear Texas Department of Transportation engineers justify a reworking of Ranch to Market Road 1431 from a four-lane highway to a two-lane highway with turn and passing lanes. Opposition to the proposal was nearly unanimous.

 

By Phil Reynolds

The Highlander

Facing a hostile, but polite, audience that nearly filled the 500-capacity sanctuary at Kingsland’s First Baptist Church Tuesday evening, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials agreed to reconsider a proposal to restripe Ranch-to-Market Road 1431 in Llano County.

The project would have made the four-lane highway into a two-lane highway with intermittent passing and turning lanes, a change TxDOT engineers said would improve the safety of the road.

Nonsense, said the crowd.

Speaker after speaker argued that the change would not be an improvement to the existing highway. One called it, simply, “a solution in search of a problem.”

Indeed, it wasn’t clear from some comments at the workshop and earlier gatherings how many opposed the project itself and how many were unhappy with the state agency for moving on with the plan without consulting with residents, or even with county officials.

Engineers justified this by saying the project was intended to improve safety, and safety projects rarely were subject to consultation.

We haven’t communicated well with your commissioners and (County) Judge (Mary) Cunningham” said District Engineer Terry McCoy, the agency’s top engineer in the 11 counties around Austin.

He emphasized, in fact, that county officials had nothing to do with planning the project, saying it was all TxDOT’s responsibility.

Nevertheless, McCoy said, “I’m not saying that this is exactly the right project with the right funds, but I am saying that the motive was pure.”

The persistent theme of questions from the audience was summed up by one: “Why did you decide to rework a highway that had nothing wrong with it?”

Engineers held out for restriping a section of the road where it crosses railroad tracks between Kingsland and Texas 29. There, the shoulder is virtually nonexistent and guard rails come to within inches of the pavement edges. McCoy told of one wreck there where the vehicle hit the guard rail and caromed across the center line into brush on the other side of the highway.

But, polled by Precinct 3 Commissioner Mike Sandoval, audience members refused to go along with a proposal to restripe the road even in that limited area.

What they want, if the agency is going to do something to RM 1431, is four lanes with a continuous turning lane between RM 2545 and RM 3404. That would take care of traffic turning at the First Baptist Church, at the Community Center and at RM 3404, commonly known as Slab Road.

But engineers said while safety money is available to re-stripe into what’s called a “super two” highway, money to add lanes – actual construction funds – is harder to come by.

McCoy promised to have people scout for funding to apply to a four lane highway with a turn lane in that area.

Audience members also pressed for action on Texas 29 between Buchanan Dam, a two-lane road with a 70-mile-an-hour speed limit most of the way.

That’s in the works, McCoy said, but he gave no time line. A TxDOT spokesperson earlier told the Highlander that Texas 29 is scheduled for bid letting in 2021, which means construction wouldn’t be finished for several months after that.

Cost of converting Texas 29 from a two-lane highway to a “super two” road has been estimated at $15 million.

While the audience disagreed with TxDOT, they remained courteous to the engineers. When McCoy conceded that his agency had not communicated well, he was applauded. Area Engineer Cathy Kratz, from Burnet, answering a question about what to do on a two-lane road when someone wants to drive faster than the speed limit, said, “We advise patience,” which drew a chuckle from residents.

The meeting ended with no date set for more discussions on the project.

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