Residents cite concerns amid roadway closure

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A close up of the closed bridge on San Gabriel River Ranch Road shows exposed wires. Williamson County Road & Bridge officials say the bridge is not safe. (Christine Bolanos Photo)

A close up of the closed bridge on San Gabriel River Ranch Road shows exposed wires. Williamson County Road & Bridge officials say the bridge is not safe. (Christine Bolanos Photo)

By Christine Bolaños

A roadway closure in the San Gabriel River Ranch subdivision has led to more than 100 residents to cite their concerns via signatures on a petition. The “Petition to Halt the Reconfiguration of San Gabriel River Ranch Subdivision by Williamson County Department of Infrastructure, Road & Bridge Division” protests what residents believe was a failure by Williamson County to “adequately notify” them of the closing of the San Gabriel River Ranch Road at Remuda.

The petition states homeowners are “alarmed” that the county is considering and “willing to divide” the neighborhood by creating cul-de-sacs. The petition points out its supporters’ belief that the project will cause half of the neighborhood to be unable to use County Road 214, eliminate the main access to the subdivision that will affect emergency response times, the emergency response time delays will raise rates for home insurance and devaluate property values; and add at least 10 minutes of travel time each way during residents’ daily commute via County Road 200.

“Road and Bridge engineers have been monitoring the road at this location very closely, as was promised to the residents of this subdivision at a public meeting in August of 2013,” said Terron Evertson, director of Road & Bridge in Williamson County. “On the most recent inspection, it was determined that the deterioration of the roadway caused by water flowing over the road has severely eroded and undermined the integrity of the roadway structure.

“It has been condemned; it has been closed because it can no longer be traversed safely,” Evertson said. “Williamson County is currently seeking an engineering firm to design different alternatives for the repair or modification of the roadway at this location. All alternatives and options are being considered at this time.”

Evin Cooper and her family are among the residents adversely affected by the closure. She believes that if the county had maintained the road in the first place, its closure would not be needed and the inconveniences could have been avoided. She also believes that if the road is truly not salvageable she would like engineers or other county representatives to inform the neighborhood of the reasons why that is.

She works in Austin and said the detour as a result of the road closure has caused confusion and delays not just for residents but for every driver going through the area. This includes UPS drivers, school bus drivers and the mail carrier.

Her commute used to include 4.5 miles on San Gabriel Ranch Road.

“It was super quick and now it adds 10 minutes just to get to (Highway) 29,” Cooper said. “In the mornings on the way to school, there’s that whole neighborhood and this whole neighborhood that used to go out this way — it’s added an insane amount of traffic.

“Especially that light at 29 at 7 a.m. when you’re trying to get the kids to school,” she added. “We have to leave about 10 minutes earlier. Frankly, I’m concerned it’s going to drive our property values down just because of the inconvenience. There’s another bridge out there that can go out if it rains hard again.

“Last year when it flooded this was out but we could still get out because of that,” Cooper continued. “And when that bridge goes out we can get out because of this. It never flooded at the same time thank God. But now, if that bridge goes out….”

Cooper was referring to another low-water crossing in the neighborhood.

The petition “respectfully demands” action from the county related to the rumor that FEMA condemned the low-water crossing. Evertson clarified to The Independent the rumor is untrue.

“FEMA has not condemned the roadway. FEMA was responding to Williamson County’s request to investigate the roadway, as part of an effort to secure disaster recovery funds to assist in the repairs or modifications of the roadway,” he said.

He said resident input is invaluable.

“Williamson County Road and Bridge regrets that it did not have time to notify residents in advance that the roadway would be closed,” he said. “However, once notified of the severe loss of structural integrity of the roadway and the hazard that it posed, it was necessary to close the road immediately and without delay.”

Moving forward, the petition asks for a meeting among residents and the Williamson County Department of Infrastructure, Road & Bridge Division, at the earliest opportunity and before any decisions are made impacting roads in the San Gabriel Ranch Road subdivision.

The petition also asks that “the washed out road will be replaced with a bridge and medal guardrails or repaired in such a way as to keep the neighborhood distinctly connected.”

It goes on to say that no decisions should be made without approval from a majority of the property owners in the subdivision. And lastly, that Williamson County either by mail, email or its website, keep SGRR residents and other affected parties, aware “of all viable and relevant options under consideration.”

“Friday, I went to work, the kids went to school and everything was totally normal,” Cooper said. “And then I got the kids from school at 3:30 p.m., came home and this was here.”

She said she and other residents did not receive notification that the roadway would be closed and came home to find bearings and a road closure sign.

“We should have a say,” Cooper said. “We’re not saying, ‘Don’t do it.’ We’re just saying, ‘Talk to us.’” County officials said costs associated with the section of San Gabriel Ranch Road that is currently closed has yet to be determined.

“There are currently ongoing meetings with FEMA to attempt to appropriate necessary disaster recovery funding so adequate repairs or modifications can be made,” Evertson said. “While considering the proper course of action for this section of roadway, all options are being considered.”

County officials pointed out that they did notify residents on short notice.

“We did have a message board up, signs to check the web page and a posted detour,” Evertson said. “We also notified the school district immediately so they could determine if bus routes were affected.”

Officials said the county is considering multiple alternative including total repair of the spillway and the road, new culverts and possible cul-de-sacs.

“The county is actively selecting a design firm, meeting with FEMA regarding possible flood recovery funds that will help with the cost of this project, and coming up with alternatives and costs,” he said.

According to Dephanie Cates, the petition has nearly 130 signatures. She and others set up a table last Saturday morning on the corner of Blessing Ranch and CR 200 to collect signatures for the petition.

She told The Independent the roadway closure splits the neighborhood by forcing half to enter and exit from Highway 29 using CR 200 and Blessing Ranch Road, and the other half to use CR 214 from Highway 29. She said before the low-water bridge was closed it had been used for more than 30 years.

County officials said they will share information on progress with residents as well as alternatives on the website in addition to emailing residents the information.

Residents can request to be put on the email list by emailing roadadmin@wilco.org.

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