Residents ask TxDOT for TX 29 center lane

Local resident Tara Luke speaks to TxDOT Austin District Engineer Terry McCoy about the possibility of reducing the speed limit on Texas 29 during a Burnet County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday.

 

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

Burnet Bulletin

A full courtroom of Burnet County residents appeared before the Commissioners Court Tuesday morning, asking what can be done to add a continuous left-turn lane and other safety improvements to Texas 29 between Burnet and Bertram after a number of fatal accidents on the highway.

They had their questions answered by Texas Department of Transportation Austin District Engineer Terry McCoy, a Burnet County native whose district oversees state highways in 11 counties, including Burnet County.

Burnet County Judge James Oakley, who sits on the board of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) — which oversees how federal highway funds are prioritized in a six-county region, including Burnet County — said the safety issues being identified by Burnet County and CAMPO are not just limited to Texas 29.

“There are safety issues on many of our roads, including US 281 south of Marble Falls and on Texas 71,” Oakley said.

CAMPO priortizes transportation projects from its six counties and submits them to TxDOT on a biennial basis, Oakley explained. Burnet County has identified some $60 million to $70 million in priority transportation projects it will submit to CAMPO, including a project to widen Texas 29 east of Burnet.

The total cost to widen Texas 29 from the railroad tracks in Burnet to Bertram, to include a continuous center-turn lane, two traffic lanes in each direction and shoulders — similar to US 281 between Burnet and Marble Falls — has an estimated $10 million price tag, Oakley said.

“We are trying to achieve this, but it cannot happen overnight,” Oakley added. “It is our goal and we will get there, but I don't want you to think we are not trying to do anything. Some of the seeds take time to germinate. Safety is our number one priority and we are not trying to do something that is a reactive measure, but have been proactive in trying to get something done about this.”

Burnet County's transportation priorities are due to be submitted to CAMPO for staff review by January. They will be scored and then prioritized throughout the region in May by the CAMPO board. On Aug. 18, 2018, they will be presented to the TxDOT Board of Commissioners for funding.

At Tuesday's meeting, McCoy confirmed Texas 29 is an important highway to him personally and one he would like to see improved.

“The loss of lives on our highways affects us at a deep level and we take seriously our responsibility to save lives,” McCoy said. “I represent 11 counties and have 10,000 lane miles in my district. Everyone's lives are precious to us, but we must prioritize how we spend the money we receive, which is unfortunate when we are talking about something as precious as a human life.

“Highway 29 is personal to me. I grew up in Burnet and my 80-year-old mom lives on 29. I would love to do this project, especially because our area office is on 29 and we have employees driving in and out of the property every day. Unfortunately in the past, this project has not risen to a high enough priority to fund it and it is competing with a lot of other funding requests out there.”

Resident Tara Luke asked why the speed limit could not be lowered from 65 mph to 55 mph, especially inside city limits of Burnet. She and her son were in an accident where they were rear-ended when they tried to make a turn; fortunately, they both survived the collision.

McCoy explained TxDOT must set speed limits based on speed studies they perform of an area, which includes determining the 85th percentile speed, or the speed at or below which 85 percent of people drive at any given location under good weather and visibility conditions, which may be considered as the maximum safe speed for that location.

He suggested TxDOT could undertake a new speed study of Texas 29 from Burnet to Bertram to determine the maximum safe speed, but it is ultimately up to local and state law enforcement to enforce those speed limits as well.

One of the more poignant speakers Tuesday was Luis Luna, whose wife Pamela Denise Stewart was killed, along with another driver, Dena Kolb, in a three-vehicle accident on Texas 29 near Bertram on Oct. 2.

Luna said the speed limit on Texas 29 between Bertram and Burnet is 65 mph, but “most people are going faster. I know this for a fact because I get passed by young men, kids, women and old ladies,” he said.

“I see (there is) a left-turn lane going in just before the Llano County line (on Texas 29 at Buchanan Dam),” Luna said. “This area is a 55 mph zone. I don't believe deaths have occurred there, just vehicle damage.

“I believe this is backwards. If these left-turn lanes can be redirected to the higher-speed areas, it would definitely save lives. It is too late for my wife, but it may save others from having to go through my pain.”

Burnet CISD Superintendent Keith McBurnett said his district covers 700 square miles and operates more than 40 buses on the road. In his six years at the district's helm, there have been three major fatality accidents in which vehicle drivers have hit school buses, resulting in at least four deaths.

“Fortunately, the buses did what they were supposed to do, which is keep all of our children on board safe, but what keeps me up at night is what happens when they are faced with an impact from a larger vehicle,” McBurnett said. “There are 30 to 50 students on one of our buses at any time and we have a lot of buses traveling east and west on Texas 29.”

Laney Road 

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