Steiner Ranch evacuation route up for $2.7 million vote Tuesday

Steiner Ranch fires in 2011 (KXAN Photo)
Steiner Ranch fires in 2011 (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than five years after the 2011 historical wildfires in Central Texas, Travis County commissioners will vote Tuesday on whether to fund the construction of an emergency evacuation route in the Steiner Ranch neighborhood, near Lake Travis.

The proposed $2.7 million project would construct an emergency road connecting Flat Top Ranch Road with Montview Drive. Currently, residents in the area say there is only one way in and out of the master planned community.

“When you get past Steiner Ranch Boulevard, there is no other option. You have no other option,” said Kayla Marnach, a Steiner Ranch homeowner. “There should be a moratorium freeze on any building of anything until we get a second road in. They’re just building so many without even considering what the options are for the people that are living there.”

Homeowners like Marnach say a solution is long overdue.

“Trying to get out, it was so frightening, because you couldn’t. The traffic was stacked up and there’s only one way in and one way out,” said Marnach, who still remembers the 2011 fire evacuation. “It was just bumper to bumper, not knowing when we’d be able to go back home. Not knowing if our house would even be there when we got there.”

Traffic slowed during Steiner Ranch fire evacuation in 2011. (KXAN Photo)
Traffic slowed during Steiner Ranch fire evacuation in 2011. (KXAN Photo)

Fire officials tell KXAN the evacuation lasted as long as seven hours to complete.

Marnach moved to Steiner Ranch in 1985. Since then, the area has experienced significant growth.

“It was always a concern of ours – the amount of population — that it had been in there,” said Marnach. The evacuation in 2011 was proof enough, she says, another emergency road is necessary through the growing neighborhood.

“It’s really made us stop and think what would we do if it happened again, because there’s nothing — there’s no other way we could get out. We can go on to Lake Austin, or we can fight to try and get out,” she said.

Lake Travis Fire and Rescue Chief Robert Abbott also sees the need.

“We need some other form of evacuation on the back side of Steiner Ranch,” he said, confident the community of taxpayers and commissioners will see the value in the proposed emergency access route. “This has been on the community’s minds ever since the day of that fire.”

“It is vital to provide the community with the best level of safety–whether that’s additional firefighters, paramedics, police officers, or things that they can use like emergency access route to get out of the area if they should need to do that,” Chief Abbott added.

Commissioners we spoke with Monday say they are supportive of the end goal of providing a second evacuation route out of the area, but say they are still waiting to learn more specifics about the project. If approved, construction would likely not begin until 2019.

KXAN reached out to the Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association on Monday. The chairman, Brian Thompto, said the developers had not planned for a major fire incident in their master plan which also underwent a negotiated approval process with the City of Austin. When the fire of 2011 occurred, he said, it became clear that an extensive reevaluation of fire and emergency evacuation procedures was needed along with exploration of alternative routes.

Since then, several alternative evacuation routes were reportedly explored by the association and emergency services. In 2014, the neighborhood association met with Travis County to discuss the options.

“In the unlikely–but critical–event of a future evacuation this alternate exit together with updated evacuation procedures for traffic management developed by the Sheriff and ESD #6 will be critical,” he added.

For more information about Tuesday’s meeting, click here.

Update: The project was officially approved at the Feb. 21 meeting.

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