STAFF WRITER CONNIE SWINNEY
TRAVIS SETTLEMENT — When Sari Pearce pulls onto Texas 71 from her home just west of Bee Cave, she feels on edge.
“Even before the day of the fatality, there were other accidents,” said Pearce, a resident of Travis Settlement, located just west of Bee Creek Road.
She and her son’s school bus start off on the same route on the highway each weekday morning.
“This is a dangerous lane,” she said of where she witnessed a recent collision. “I got really upset.”
On Feb. 20, near Bee Creek Road, 64-year-old Raul Rivas Rodriguez of Austin died when the 2008 Ford F-150 pickup truck he was driving skidded sideways into oncoming traffic on a rain-slicked Texas 71 and struck another vehicle. He died at the scene.
The wreck joined a string of fatalities in that area that involved Highland Lakes residents. In October 2006, Marble Falls Area EMS paramedic Eric Hanson, 26, and Troy McVey of Spicewood died when the ambulance Hanson was driving and the truck McVey was driving collided. Then, in February 2008, 16-year-old Marble Falls High School student Randall Hibler and two other teens — one from Austin and the other from Waco — died in an accident in the Bee Creek Road area of Texas 71.
“On Wednesday (Feb. 21) at 10:45 a.m., the road (in the same area) was wet, and, just to the left of me on the eastbound road, there was a white Suburban truck that had skidded a few feet away, and he started spinning counter-clockwise,” Pearson said. “We were all going slow because of the fatal accident the day before. I was just freaking out.”
During the day, Pearce and her neighbors built momentum with a social media campaign that inundated the Texas Department of Transportation with calls and emails about issues on that stretch of Texas 71.
The effort gained support from residents in adjacent subdivisions, including Sweetwater and West Cypress Hills. A number of them had expressed concerns for years, according to residents.
As a result, on Feb. 22, TxDOT dispatched crews to that part of the highway and began upgrades from Bee Creek Road east to the Pedernales Summit Parkway, just east of Bee Cave.
A TxDOT official confirmed the work coincided with “complaints” from residents.
“Our staff is also working on issuing a construction contract to re-establish the cross slope of the roadway as needed to drain surface water and to repave the highway between FM 2322 and Uplands Ridge Drive in Bee Cave,” according to a statement from Christopher Bishop of TxDOT. “We are placing message boards advising people to slow down and use caution while driving in this area.”
The TxDOT work has provided a sense of relief for concerned residents.
“I think they finally heard us,” Pearce said. “How many cars does it have to damage. I’m glad they listened.”