Brian Thompto remembers when he first moved to Steiner Ranch and commuting on RM 620 and RM 2222 was a breeze.
“In 2007, things were easy peasy,” said Thompto, a hardware engineer who chairs the Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association. “I knew eventually it would get worse. But it happened so much faster than I thought.”
Now, on a normal morning and pretty much anytime from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., Thompto said, eastbound traffic backs up from RM 2222 all the way to Quinlan Park Road, a distance of about two miles. On a bad day, that trail of Lake Travis-area commuters can stretch back another mile or so to Mansfield Dam.
Thompto — who works near Braker Lane and Burnet Road and takes RM 2222 to get toward the center of town — said it often takes him 35 minutes or more just to get to McNeil Drive on RM 2222, the heavily used turnoff to Vandegrift High School. He leans on classical music to deal with it all.
“It mellows me out,” he said.
The Texas Department of Transportation and the city of Austin, which already made some tweaks that temporarily improved the situation, are moving toward an $18 million project that engineers say could provide some genuine relief to the congestion.
Work to widen RM 620 and RM 2222, and to thread a shortcut between the two roads, should begin as soon as the summer of 2018, TxDOT area engineer Bobby Ramthun said.
The city, as part of the huge transportation bond approved in 2016, is covering $7.5 million of the cost. Ramthun said if all goes according to schedule, the project — actually two phases, under two construction contracts — should be done by the end of 2020.
Here’s what TxDOT has in mind:
• In the first phase, RM 2222, which has two main lanes in each direction, would be widened to three lanes each way, with a raised median and left-turn bays cut into the median. This expansion to six lanes would happen on the 1.2-mile stretch from west of River Place Boulevard to Ribelin Ranch Drive, just east of McNeil. The work, including installing curbs and gutters, should take about 18 months, Ramthun said.
• The second phase, which includes the new cut-through road, would begin about mid-2019, while work continues on the first phase. The delay for this phase mostly owes to the need to buy three parcels of land, Ramthun said, and it is likely that some or all would have to be acquired through condemnation. And the federally required environmental review of this section of the project is not yet completed, he said.
• RM 2222, in the half-mile from the west end of the new six-lane section to the RM 620 intersection, would be converted from a five-lane road (with a continuous center-turn lane) into a four-lane road with a raised median, some turn bays, curbs and gutters. While that change would restrict some left turns people currently can make, it will be safer and improve flow, Ramthun said.
• The new cut-through road would run about 2,000 feet, jutting off from the west end of the RM 2222 six-lane section and intersecting RM 620 about a half mile west of the RM 2222 intersection. The new road would parallel a line of metal towers now supporting electric lines. The road would have two westbound lanes and a double-left turn lane at RM 620. Eastbound, it would briefly have two lanes near RM 620, then narrow to one lane. At RM 2222, it would have a right turn eastbound into a lane reserved for that traffic stream.
• RM 620, from about Steiner Ranch Boulevard to the new road (about 4,600 feet), would get an added eastbound lane that would feed directly into the cut-through road. There would be new traffic lights on RM 2222 and RM 620 at each end of the new road.
Thompto, through his position with the neighborhood group, has been heavily involved with TxDOT on the project, he said.
Will it make a meaningful difference?
“I’m pretty optimistic,” he said. “The key is that six-lane section on 2222, and the signal timing. If they get that right, this could work out pretty well.”
Until then, for Thompto and others making that daily slog — through what will now have construction thrown into the mix for about three years — look on the left end of the FM dial for 89.5, KMFA. They take classic music requests.