Concerns over U.S. Highway 290 boiled over Thursday as residents packed into Dripping Springs City Hall to express their opinions to county and state officials in a town hall meeting meant to address safety improvements.
Officials called for the meeting after ten people died in vehicle accidents on U.S. 290 last year.
More recently, two people died March 2, 2017, in a head-on collision and an Austin resident died March 16, 2017 after losing control of his motorcycle.
Hays County Sherriff Gary Cutler attended the town hall meeting with Captains Mike Davenport and Mark Cumberland.
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Ray Whisenant, Rep. Jason Isaac and TxDOT representative Michelle Romage-Chambers addressed questions about the county’s and state’s plans.
Improving safety on Hwy 290 is a TxDOT priority, Romage-Chambers said.
In response to vehicle accidents, law enforcement has increased their presence on the road.
“Over the last three we weeks, we have made a concerted effort to target 290,” Davenport said. “The last eight days we have made 200 stops. We were targeting intersections and speeding.”
When a few residents voiced gratitude for law enforcement officers’ increased presence on the roads, residents loudly applauded in agreement.
However, one resident pressed officials on additional road safety improvements.
Whisenant said officials are working with TxDOT to begin the long process of widening 290 to a five lane intersection from McGregor Lane to the Hays County line.
TxDOT has acquired part of the funding for the planning and is trying to get funding for construction, Romage-Chambers said.
Once TxDOT has funding for the project, officials have to go through the process of completing an environmental impact assessment and acquiring right-of-ways, among many things.
“It still takes us five to six years after we start the design process,” Romage-Chambers said.
There are plans to work on the Trautwein Road, Holder Lane, Martin Road and Henly Loop intersections, Whisenant said.
“Hopefully, we can achieve those in a foreseeable time,” Whisenant said.
Romage-Chambers said some of the speed limits on Hwy 290 will be lowered by five miles per hour (mph).
“We’ve recently done a speed study on 290 which resulted in us getting to lower some of the speed limits by about five mph,” Romage-Chambers said. “It’s going to take a little bit of time.”
Speed limits outside the city limits have to be approved by the Hays County Transportation Commission, Romage-Chambers said.
“Once that happens, we’ll get signs installed and have the speed limits lowered,” Romage-Chambers said. “It should be done probably by late spring, early summer.”
Whisenant said after he became commissioner, it took four years to get the first speed reduction on Highway 290.
“It’s quite an involved process,” Whisenant said.
Residents, however, did not seem satisfied with the plans and were concerned with the urgency of improving road safety.
One resident said he believes road safety would improve simply if drivers pay attention to the road, and don’t text and drive.
Another person said adding more signage along roadways would help improve safety.
Tina Young, who’s lived in the Dripping Springs area for 9 years, said TxDOT officials do not act proactively, but take action reactively after fatalities occur.
While funding and resources limits TxDOT, Isaac said TxDOT will receive more funding in the future.
“Voters overwhelmingly approved the last election additional $5 billion going into TxDOT, dedicated … TxDOT is going to see a significant increase in their funding, just by way of voters demanding it.” State. Rep Jason Isaac
Jim Martin, Dripping Springs Transportation Committee member, announced at the meeting that the city worked with TxDOT on lowering some of the speed limits on Ranch Rd 12 from Goodnight Trail to FM 150.
“They might not all change but those are being studied to see for consistency,” Martin said. “Some of them we’ve already made the decision for them to be changed.”
City officials cannot say when the speed limit signs will be changed, Martin said.
“In the near future, you will see those changes affected from about where the Methodist Church is down to FM 150 for the ones we’ve decided and agreed to,” Martin said.
How does this impact you?
Hays County’s U.S. Highway 290 project, which was within the November 2017 bond package approved by voters, would widen the road from McGregor Lane to the county line, which officials believe could improve safety along the roadway.
More law enforcement presence could equate to enforcement of speed limits and good driving habits. It could also mean more citations for those who don’t follow driving laws.
Discussion could drive county and state officials at looking at lowering speed limits. However, the process to do so could take time.