When I got the call from a reader, one Harris Johnson of Northwest Hills, I suspected after a few minutes of conversation that the loquacious Johnson, 81, might have been in sales earlier in life. Insurance sales, it turns out.
In a 30-minute conversation, I heard more about Johnson’s beloved mother, gone for more than a half century, than I’ve said about my own late mother in a decade or two. And I learned that he managed to lure a freshly elected President Ronald Reagan to speak to his national sales and marketing organization back in 1980 or so. Johnson is a man who makes things happen, apparently.
What he has gotten done in this case, with considerable effort, cooperation and expense from the city of Austin, is to have a traffic light installed at the curving, high speed intersection of RM 2222 and Dry Creek Drive. The poles and shrouded signals went up last month, and city officials tell me the lights should go live sometime this month. Total cost: $125,000.
At least part of the credit, or blame if you are of that mind later when caught at the light, should go to Johnson. He said he has made it something of a quest over the past three years, burning up the phone lines in various city offices and arguing that having a light there was a critical safety question. It also will ease access to MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) and the rest of Central Austin for people who live on and near Dry Creek. Johnson, who said traffic backs up on Dry Creek at RM 2222 during rush hour, is one of those people.
“I decided I was going to get this done,” said Johnson, who has lived about a half-mile away for 17 years, “before I died a fourth time.”
Before … what?
Johnson said he was found face down in Lake Travis 57 years ago, was fished out, and revived. Forty-seven years ago, a series of oncologists told him he had inoperable fourth stage melanoma before an experimental procedure pulled him out of the dive. And then he had a heart attack in 2002 that he survived, thanks to quick work by firefighters.
He acknowledged that saying he died on that second one could be a bit of an exaggeration. As for his role in getting this new traffic light, Johnson said he was committed to it because of a series of bad accidents at that corner, and the long backups on Dry Creek as commuters struggle to turn left onto RM 2222.
City officials told me that over the past two years the intersection was the site of 14 “serious” traffic crashes, defined as wrecks causing at least $5,000 in damage. No one died in any of the wrecks, they told me. Johnson said city officials clocked at least one car going 67 mph down that hill on RM 2222.
RM 2222, in the Texas Department of Transportation’s 2011 count, saw about 27,000 cars a day just up the hill from Dry Creek. Heavy traffic, in other words, but not crushing for five lanes. I used to live out that way, and often had to make a comparable left turn onto RM 2222 from the convenience store at Dry Creek. Didn’t cause me that much trouble, frankly, but perhaps I never tried it during rush hour.
Anyway, the new light, while some people coming from Loop 360 might not like having an extra stop, probably will prevent some accidents. I suggested to Johnson that the city could name it for him (a first, I assume). He declined the potential honor.
“This has really been a challenge,” he said. “But my mother made sure I grew up with that attitude. You do whatever it takes to get it done.”