Public petition highlights need for turn-lane project

BY ALEXANDRIA RANDOLPH/BURNET BULLETIN

 

While Texas Department of Transportation officials said they have been in long term discussions with Burnet County officials about turning lanes for high-traffic highways, one Burnet County woman said she is tired of waiting.

Candice Cozby began a petition after a collision on TX 71 claimed the life of a friend and coworker as he was turning into Easy Heat Corporation from US 281.

“He was rear-ended by an 18-wheeler,” Cozby said. “It still bothers me. There's still paint on the ground from where they marked the road.”

Gabriel Brondo, who had worked for the company for more than 10 years, lost his life in November 2015 while trying to turn into his workplace. He wasn't the only one that had experienced close calls while attempting to turn off the highway, Cozby said, but his death was the final straw for her.

“I knew I needed to do something, I just wasn't sure what route to take,” she said.

Cozby decided to begin an internet petition on www.change.org, which she thought would be more effective and easier to share than a hard copy petition.

“We're a small blip on the radar … We matter. We all pay taxes. I wanted to get awareness out there,” she said.

The petition — which is intended to get the attention of Texas Department of Transportation officials and requests a turn lane for US 281, TX 71 and TX 29 — had 985 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

“This fatal accident has pushed this to the forefront of public view,” Burnet County Precinct 1 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery said of the wreck that claimed Brondo's life. He added that Burnet County officials have been have been in discussions with TxDOT about turn lanes on the highway for years.

“We fight that battle all the way up US 281 and TX 71. It would be ideal for all three major highways in Burnet County to have a continuous turn lane,” Dockery said, including TX 29 in the discussion, but he added that the schematics for a turn lane at the intersection of US 281 and CR 403 are already finished and are waiting on the go-ahead from the state agency.
“We've been holding our breath for the hiring of a new district engineer and area engineer, and we now have both of those in place. We will be very vocal about this and work with them to see this accomplished,” he said.

New TxDOT Area Engineer Cathy Kratz said the agency is “still gathering information” on the area, but said that did not mean nothing had been done following the Brondo fatality.

“Any time a major accident or fatality occurs, maintenance crews take pictures to see if anything can be fixed immediately,” she said, adding that the organization keeps wreck statistics. “We don't require petitions to get our attention for this.”

“Anytime we see crashes on the roadway these touch us and hurt us like anyone else. We drive these roads like everyone else,” added TxDOT spokesperson Kelli Reyna.

Kratz said she met with Cozby last week to discuss the problem area.

“I wanted to understand where she was coming from and what her concerns were,” Kratz said, “and to see if there was anything we could do in the short term to make this a safer area.”

“We discussed possibilities like putting up a flashing light,” Cozby said, but added she still felt the public has been waiting too long for turn lanes. “I just don't want this to get pushed aside.”

Reyna said that TxDOT doesn't wait “for crashes to happen. We still have a process. We have program dates. We are constantly looking at and reviewing our system. It all goes into one unified plan.

“If it doesn't happen the next day, we don't want people to think that we're not listening,” she said, adding that US 281 has been a highlight of discussions between TxDOT officials and Burnet County officials “since the beginning of time.”

Dockery said that east TX 71 is high priority for Burnet County officials because of the increase of traffic going in and out of Summit Springs, a new subdivision in the area, and the heavy industry developing in Spicewood.

Dockery said TxDOT works off of a TIPS list, or Transportation Improvement Projects, which typically functions in three to four year cycles.

“Typically a project takes three years to complete, but if you don't ever start working on it, it will never get done,” Dockery said. “Right now we're waiting on a call for projects from TxDOT.”

Dockery said that when TxDOT calls for projects, all 10 counties in the region submit project suggestions to CAPCOG, Capital Area Council of Governments, which are then prioritized through CARTPO, Capital Area Regional Transportation Project Organization, a CAPCOG committee.

Dockery said while wreck history for the project areas had something to do with the prioritization, safety and roadway deterioration are large parts of the scoring method.

Dockery said that the turn lane project desired at the intersection of US 281 and CR 403 would cross into Blanco County, making it a regional project.

“Regional projects carry more weight in the priority list,” he said.

Dockery said the turn lane desired at CR 403 would be much like what was put in between the Burnet city limits and Park Road 4. 

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