Thomas Fritzinger knows firsthand the danger posed by traffic on FM 969, the road that runs east through Travis County to Bastrop County and is the only access point for residents of Austin’s Colony.
Fritzinger’s home faces the intersection of FM 969 and Hunter’s Bend Road. About twice a month, he says, he hears the familiar screeching and slamming noises of traffic accidents occurring.
Fritzinger, who is president of Austin’s Colony Neighborhood Association, said he used to call 911 and head to the scene every time until he realized there wasn’t much he could do beyond making the call.
If one of Travis County’s bond propositions passes Tuesday, however, one of the largest projects included in the package would create a new way in and out of the neighborhood by extending Harold Green Road to Austin Colony’s Boulevard to give residents another route to Texas 130.
“Just about everybody that’s been here more than five or six years knows somebody that died on that road,” Fritzinger said of the once-country road that now accommodates hundreds of vehicles per day. “So anything we can do at all to get people off that road, it’s going to help everybody in the long run.”
A total of 251 crashes, six fatal and 127 causing injury, were reported between 2008 and 2010 in the corridor from FM 969 between U.S. 183 and Webberville, according to a 2014 study by the city of Austin.
The problematic FM 969 corridor is on Austin’s list for improvements that could be funded with the city’s 2016 transportation bond, and county officials are also working on improvements, some of which are years from completion.
The Harold Green extension, estimated to cost about $12 million, is one of several road and drainage projects included in Travis County’s $93.4 million Proposition A on Tuesday’s ballot. An additional $91.5 million proposition will cover parks and conservation projects.
Travis County officials estimate that the package will cost the average homeowner about $24 a year once all the debt is issued in 2023.
County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said that, as with all parts of the bond, the roads portion is about keeping up with growth that’s radiated from the city.
Eckhardt said the county is the only entity other than the state that can fund improvements for unincorporated areas, especially with the Legislature passing a law this past session that severely limits cities’ abilities to annex.
“With so many people moving to the eastern portion of Travis County, we need to make some deep infrastructure investments in the transportation grid out there,” Eckhardt said. “The state doesn’t make these kind of investments.”
That is in part why the citizen’s bond advisory committee decided to primarily choose projects in eastern Travis County: to create equity for the city’s outlying areas that have historically not received the same level of resources.
“Part of it is playing catch-up in that area and part of it is that is where the immediate need is,” committee chair Ron Wattinger said.
Nicole Halliday said she moved to Austin’s Colony after rent became too high in Northwest Austin. But now she spends up to 15 minutes just trying to get out of the neighborhood and onto FM 969 to begin her commute. Had she known about the acute traffic problems, Halliday said, she might not have moved.
“I know the area is growing, but it’s just taking a really long time, and more people keep moving in and not getting services,” Halliday said.
Fritzinger was quick to note that he believes the improvements planned by Travis County will have a trickle-down effect.
“Anything to improve the infrastructure to the area will support future growth for the city, and I think that benefits a lot of people, in and out of Austin,” he said.
Others have voiced opposition. A county staff report showed that of citizens’ remarks not related to a specific project made during bond-related public hearings and through written communications, seven comments advocated against any bond.
Most cited high taxes and cost-of-living in Austin. Some said they did not want to pass on the cost to future generations and some said they felt it was the “turn” of the Austin school district, which has a $1.1 billion bond proposition on the ballot.
The Travis County Taxpayer’s Union, which has historically opposed some propositions and has launched a campaign against the school district bond, has not taken a position on the bonds, director Don Zimmerman said.
“We have to pick our battles, and we decided to focus on Austin schools bond,” Zimmerman said, adding he might have been supportive had the county focused more on roads versus conservation projects.
What’s on the ballot?
Travis County voters will see two bond propositions on Tuesday’s ballot.
Proposition A covers $93.4 million in roads and drainage projects. Among the biggest-ticket items are about $9.5 million to build a four-lane divided road to eventually connect an extended South Pleasant Valley Road from FM 1327 to Bradshaw Road and about $5 million to replace an undersized culvert at Gregg Lane and Wilbarger Creek.
Proposition B covers $91.5 million in parks and land conservation projects. Among the biggest-ticket items include about $24 million to build a Bee Creek Sports Complex, about $17 million for conservation easements and about $7 million for Gilleland Creek Greenway improvements.