An illustration of the possible Wirtz Dam Road bridge. Courtesy image
Population growth is a driving force behind Burnet County traffic projects, including two new bridges, in the 2020 transportation plan accepted by the Burnet County commissioners during their Jan. 12 meeting. The updated plan includes a possible bridge east of Marble Falls connecting Texas 71 and RR 1431, a project dubbed “The Narrows,” as well as the proposed Wirtz Dam bridge west of the city.
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization developed the non-binding plan while working alongside county and other local officials. It’s an update of the 2010 plan. CAMPO Executive Director Ashby Jones presented the document to the Burnet County Commissioners Court. The report focuses on the county’s main arterial network, including U.S. 281, U.S. 183, Texas 29, Texas 71, and RR 1431.
The Narrows project could reduce emergency response times to the area, according to the report, but it might be more cost efficient to add emergency response infrastructure. The proposed bridge and connections will require more detailed analysis and funding, said CAMPO Community Outreach Manager Doise Mieres and isn’t yet included in CAMPO’s 2045 Regional Transportation Plan.
The plan does include a proposed Wirtz Dam Road bridge located west of Marble Falls. In August 2020, the Burnet County Commissioners Court approved a contract to begin the engineering phase of the project, which includes surveying, design, and environmental studies. CAMPO is funding the engineering phase.
According to the 2045 Regional Transportation Plan, CAMPO estimates the Wirtz Dam project will cost about $52.1 million. Funding will most likely come from federal sources, according to officials.
Burnet County Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery pointed out that while the lakes are the area’s greatest assets, they are also a major impediment to connectivity.
Traffic counts were added to the plan at the request of Burnet County Judge James Oakley. As CAMPO projects to the year 2045, traffic numbers jump across the board with big increases on Texas 29 and major roads in and around Marble Falls.
On Texas 29 east of Burnet, the CAMPO plan projects traffic will increase to 36,020 vehicles daily by 2045 from 24,815 currently and even more east of Bertram to the Williamson County line.
While it wasn’t in the report, Ashby said he learned the Texas Department of Transportation had put a major Texas 29 project back on its books. This project would add a center turn lane and other improvements on Texas 29 east of Bertram to the Williamson County line.
“That’s great news,” Dockery said.
It was a sentiment shared by other members of the Commissioners Court.
Safety and emergency response are a big part of the transportation plan.
Dockery noted that the emergency response section of the plan highlights RR 1431 east of Marble Falls as having one of the highest crash rates in Burnet County. Over the years, TxDOT has made improvements to the road, including adding shoulders and widening it in the Smithwick area. Most recently, TxDOT added several slow vehicle pull-out lanes from FM 1174 to Lago Vista.
Historically, Burnet County has tried to make more improvements, even purchasing right of way along the road toward the Travis County line, the commissioner noted. The commissioners also inquired about the possibility that TxDOT could classify all of the major arterial roads as part of its freight network designation. Oakley noted that the amount of heavy truck traffic on Burnet County roads is already rather high, and those trucks cause more wear and tear on roads than lighter vehicles.
“The amount of truck traffic we have here is enormous,” Dockery said. “Trucks are using the roads whether they’re declared a freight network or not.”
As part of the state’s designated freight network, the highways and roads would be eligible for more funding in the future. While Ashby couldn’t speak for TxDOT, he pointed out that the CAMPO freight plan “hadn’t been touched” since 2008. He told the commissioners he was going to direct the CAMPO staff to look at its freight plan and possibly update it, which could then be shown to TxDOT officials in future state freight network designations.
In the end, the plan gives county, local, and regional officials something to draw on as they continue addressing transportation now and in the future.