Marble Falls must 'bridge' gap with crossing



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Connie Swinney/The Highlander
A collision on the U.S. 281 Lake Marble Falls Bridge the evening of April 3 compounded traffic delays, following another multiple vehicle crash at the intersection of U.S. 281 and RR 1431 in Marble Falls. Crews re-routed traffic off the main roadways in the heart of the city which backed up motorists in adjacent neighborhoods and businesses for nearly an hour.






By Lew K. Cohn
Managing Editor

Marble Falls may be a city divided by water, but it needs to come together for a common purpose — to call for construction of a new bridge crossing over the Colorado River.

Shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 3, there was an accident on the northbound lane of US 281 at the Lake Marble Falls bridge, which snarled traffic down to one lane at one of the most inconvenient times of day. Minutes later, there was an accident at US 281 and Ranch to Market Road 1431, blocking what may be the busiest intersection in the city.

This turned US 281 into virtual parking lot, causing frustrated drivers to seek alternate routes to traverse the length of the city. Cars traveling both north and south rerouted onto residential side streets not accustomed to such handling such a heavy flow of traffic, causing even greater delays due to bottlenecks created at intersections like Broadway and Avenue N. I know this from personal experience, because it took me 25-30 minutes just to get from The Highlander office to US 281 at Lantana that day.

I cannot even imagine how first responders would have tried to navigate through the maze of cars, should there have been a life-threatening injury occur during that time.

The irony is these were not major collisions which caused such a traffic nightmare. The vehicle which sat blocking the left lane on the US 281 bridge was damaged, but thankfully not in such a way which appeared to have caused life- or limb-threatening injuries. Likewise, the accident at US 281 and RM 1431 also did not appear to involve serious injuries.

What would have happened if a tanker-trailer carrying hazardous materials crashed at the intersection of US 281 and RM 2147 and overturned, causing a spill which shuts down the bridge?

First responders considered that exact scenario during an October 2017 emergency planning tabletop exercise and came to the conclusion there is a need for an alternate bridge crossing over the Colorado River, especially as the closest alternatives are in Travis County or in Kingsland — where the RM 2900 bridge is being replaced after the original was washed away in the October 2018 Highland Lakes flood.

The potential for an accident with a hazmat truck or even a gravel-hauling tractor-trailer from one of the many local quarries does exist — and as the city of Marble Falls tries to bring more traffic and tourism into town on US 281 with the planned construction of a downtown hotel and convention center complex, it becomes a question of not if, but when, something may happen.

If the only crossing over the river in Burnet County is blocked, it impacts the health and safety of all of our residents. Baylor Scott & White Marble Falls is south of the bridge near the intersection of US 281 and Texas 71, while the majority of first responders are dispatched from north of the bridge. Loss of response time can mean loss of precious minutes — and precious lives.

Burnet County has worked tirelessly with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) to help get funding for engineering studies for a new river crossing at Wirtz Dam Road west of Marble Falls. This would be extremely beneficial and we at The Highlander encourage our state and federal highway officials to help make this a reality.

However, we also would like to encourage consideration of an eastern bridge crossing and bypass in addition to the proposed Wirtz Dam. We believe it makes more sense to give heavy vehicles another way to get across the river without having to bring them through the heart of town and across our most vital major artery.

The word bypass may cause consternation to some people in the community and reportedly has been a non-starter for some of our distinguished merchants and business leaders, who believe it takes away not only traffic, but potential sales from their doorsteps.

However, it appears clear to us the majority of businesses along US 281 are either supported primarily by local customers or they already have built up such a reputation and following that they would not see any significant drop in business by rerouting large commercial vehicles simply passing through the area en route to other destinations.

A city is only as strong and as vital as its infrastructure and our transportation system is an important part of that infrastructure. We must continue to make improvements to better serve our citizenry not only today, but into the future — we literally must “bridge” the gap.

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