CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
LLANO — Growth is spurring an increase in traffic in the Highland Lakes; however, state officials might put the brakes on additional funding for rural roadway upgrades as more populated areas compete for those dollars.
Llano County Judge Mary Cunningham has raised concerns that “high-volume highways” will take priority in the Texas Department of Transportation’s funding cycle and delay potentially lifesaving upgrades to roadways such as Texas 29 between Llano and Buchanan Dam.
“That particular roadway is currently the most dangerous area in Llano County as far as fatality accidents and a lot of people passing in no-passing lanes,” Cunningham said. “There’s really no shoulders. It’s just a dangerous, two-lane highway that carries a lot of traffic and, lately, a lot of truck traffic because of a lot of the sand and gravel truck(s).”
Another similar area of concern is Texas 16 between Llano and Fredericksburg, she said.
County officials have taken their cues from entities such as the Capital Area Rural Transportation Planning Organization (CARTPO), which is a sub-set group of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) that serves a 10-county region.
CARTPO will rank area roadways “deemed important” to make recommendations to TxDOT which, in turn, determines funding possibilities.
“The project was submitted by Llano County to CARTPO for consideration on their ranking list. It was voted as a priority project for the CARTPO region when funding became available,” said TxDOT spokesman Chris Bishop in a Jan. 4 statement. “In 2014, when the last CARTPO call for projects was held, this proposal ranked No. 5 and was estimated at $7.1 million.”
Cunningham lamented that metropolitan areas rank higher on the list for potential funding simply because of larger populations.
“Part of the problem is we’re in a region with Travis County,” she said, “and I-35 is a very busy section of highway from Georgetown down to the other side of Travis County almost to San Marcos.
“These other projects are so big, they just suck the air out of this region,” she added.
TxDOT officials say they have reviewed the Llano County portion of the Texas 29 proposal and pinpointed a stretch that could benefit from improvements and upgrades.
“This proposed project consists of widening (Texas) 29 between RM 2241 and (RR) 1431 and changing it to a ‘Super 2’ configuration,” Bishop stated.
According to TxDOT, Super 2 is a specific category of roads comprised of two lanes in one direction and one lane in the other direction with the third lane alternating in direction every few miles to allow for passing. It’s similar to what drivers find on Texas 71 between U.S. 281 and Llano.
“TxDOT and the Austin district are working hard to address safety and mobility concerns on our highways as fast as we can complete the design engineering and assign available funding,” Bishop stated. “We live in a growing area with lots of needs and a staff dedicated to getting the job done for all Texans.”
He added that the CARTPO ranking might not reflect the final outcome of TxDOT funding priorities.
“There may have been confusion on what the CARTPO ranking meant. It was a recommendation list of projects deemed important, not a funding project list,” he said. “Just because a proposed project is ranked by CARTPO does not mean that it is funded.”
“It is still a priority project for the area, and we have been working to dedicate funds to develop the project,” said Bishop regarding the Texas 29 portion.
Cunningham said she will continue to work with entities as well as area politicians to keep rural roads on the funding radar.
“They seem to be listening,” Cunningham said. “I think they’re trying to come up with some solutions for us, but it’s going to be an ongoing project for me and for the county.”