Buda-area residents hoping for fast action on FM 1626 packed an auditorium at Elm Grove Elementary School Tuesday night. Photo by Lance Duncan.
By LANCE DUNCAN
About 300 Buda-area residents, upset with crawling progress on improvements to FM 1626, attended a public hearing conducted by the Texas Department of Public Transportation (TxDOT) Tuesday night at Elm Grove Elementary School and asked for the project to move faster.
FM 1626, a country road pressed into suburban service, connects northwestern Hays County with southwestern Travis County. Already crowded during rush hours ten years ago, the road has not expanded with increasing population in the northern reaches of the Hays CISD.
After Hays County voters turned away a bond issue for road improvements, including FM 1626, in May 2007, they voted 65 percent approval for a $207 million road bond issue last November. However, road construction is notoriously slow, particularly in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone near the road.
As time has gone on, the narrow, two-lane road has become increasingly inadequate for the ever-growing amount of residents who use it daily. Meanwhile, a maze of issues surrounds the road project, such as its environmental impact and the impact on traffic along Brodie Lane, a residential arterial in south Austin taken by many commuters to link FM 1626 with Loop 1 (MoPac Expressway).
Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) has often noted, moreover, that the expansion of FM 1626 is needed before the construction of a southwestern link of SH 45 that would tie FM 1626 to MoPac without routing drivers through residential areas.
However, the segment of SH 45, a long-held dream of Buda commuters, has for years foundered on environmental and funding concerns, as well as a lack of political will in Travis County to do the project. Hays County Commissioners have repeatedly urged those in Travis County to expand SH-45 West to connect with 1626.
Barton, the commissioners court’s lead man on the FM 1626 project, drew massive applause as he urged TxDOT officials on hand to move the project forward. Barton said FM 1626 is an “outdated, winding, deadly road.” Barton asked the audience members to stand and raise their hands if they were in support of the improvements to the road. Nearly all in attendance did so.
“It’s unsafe and unacceptable when it’s within our power to do something about it,” he said.
Barton added that the Hays County Commissioners Court has passed a resolution asking that the project be approved and expedited.
Buda Mayor Bobby Lane addressed the assembly and said that Hays County has been wanting these improvements for a long time.
“We appreciate the work of TxDOT, Jeff Barton, and the county, and basically we’d like to see this road done,” he said.
Kyle Mayor Mike Gonzalez said that he also supports the improvements and thinks they are needed. Gonzalez said there should be more partnerships between state and local organizations for this kind of work, because people need the roads. He said citizens shouldn’t have to worry about bureaucracy in order to get the roads they need.
Regarding the possible connection of SH-45 with 1626, Gonzalez said it “just makes sense,” and received applause.
Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) said he was proud of himself and the county when they got the money for the project, and that the county continues to receive support and help from citizens on the issue.
Conley said FM 1626 and similar local roads were built back in the 1950s and 1960s, and demand upgrades.
Dr. Linda Carney, a family doctor and Buda resident, said her patients are having accidents on FM 1626. She said she doesn’t want to see any more people get hurt or lose children on the road, and is glad to see people coming out in support of the improvements.
Local resident Dick Kallerman spoke on behalf of the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOS). Kallerman said SOS has followed the road very carefully for a long time, adding that the road “should really be expanded for bikes and pedestrians.”
While he said he is concerned about the aquifer and thinks the road should perhaps only be widened to three lanes instead of five, Kallerman said he thinks improvements to the road are definitely needed.
Rick Castillo, a local resident who has lived off of FM 1626 for almost 13 years, said this was at least the third public hearing on this issue that he had attended. Castillo said he first heard that FM 1626 was “in the process of being widened” 13 years ago. He also said he heard that SH-45 was being connected with it at that time.
Joe Gieselman, the Transportation Executive Manager for Travis County, saidthe Brodie Lane traffic is a huge problem, and asked TxDOT to evaluate the impact of the FM 1626 expansion on Travis County. He didn’t say anything about SH-45.
Dwight Maze and Nancy Young, a local couple in attendance, said they very much wanted to see the improvements done. Maze said it is vital that the FM 1626 project be completed, because SH-45 construction is not likely to start until the 1626 improvements are finished.
“It’s typical bureaucracy,” he said. “Cart before the horse.”
Maze and Young both said that the traffic on 1626 is “nuts,” and that it’s especially gone crazy in the last four years. Maze attributed it to too much residential development without corresponding road development.
Young said driving on FM 1626 often frightens her. The road has no shoulder, which makes it a bad place to have an accident or a flat tire. She said the winding nature of the road also makes its two lanes hazardous, and that the lack of lighting at night makes it even worse.
“It’s a safety hazard more than anything,” she said.
Maze summed up their opinions with a statement that seems to speak for most of the Hays County residents in attendance: “We’ve had these meetings for a long time. What we want to see is them getting something done.”Email | Print