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County stands firm on new construction standards for low-water crossing

Friday, February 8, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Some Travis County voters are regretting having approved over $4 million to fix a low-water crossing at Great Divide Drive in Bee Cave as part of the 2017 bond. Listed alongside two dozen other projects under Proposition A, the project description stated that funds would go toward a bridge and replacement of “undersized culverts.”

But now that the county has made its intentions for the project clear, many of those who voted for the project feel they have been misled. In matching pink shirts reading “Don’t Bridge our Great Divide Drive,” dozens of local residents presented their objections to the Commissioners Court Tuesday morning.

The Great Divide low-water crossing at Little Barton Creek is unavoidable for residents of more than 200 homes. The crossing was identified by the county as an issue in 1994 because it is the only access road to so many homes. But many residents told the court on Tuesday that the crossing doesn’t worry them since floods are rare and they know not to cross when the water is high.

Residents also cited a number of safety concerns about the project, including impaired line of sight due to the bridge’s height, danger of ice in winter, increased speed of traffic coming in and out of the neighborhood, and sharp turns coming into and from driveways near the bridge.

The neighborhood’s primary objection, however, is the size of the bridge being proposed. While a number of people said they would like a bridge to improve access after heavy rains, they stressed that it should be much smaller than the one being discussed.

Transportation and Natural Resources does not want to budge on the plan. The findings of Atlas 14, the regional rainfall intensities study presented to the court in October 2018, have buttressed county construction requirements to accommodate more frequent and intense storms. In light of the study’s findings, TNR has strongly recommended the bridge be constructed according to the most rigorous standards, prepared for the worst of floods, or those that come only once every 500 years on average.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty of Precinct 3 knew the bridge design would spark a controversy long before the community saw the plans. Because voters approved the project over a year ago, before the Atlas 14 study had impacted 2017 bond projects, Daugherty conducted a survey of the households that would be using the bridge on a daily basis.

Daugherty sent out 199 surveys regarding the 500-year flood plain bridge and received nearly 84 percent participation. Having understood the scale of the project, Daugherty said almost 79 percent of those who participated disapproved of the bridge.

Fortunately for those residents, the city of Bee Cave has expressed interest in annexing the crossing and taking on the project on a smaller scale. This compromise could appease a majority of residents who rejected the project only because of its size as well as those who want a bridge to ensure better access for emergency vehicles and prevent accidents during floods.

If Bee Cave moves forward with the negotiation, the county would also be relieved of the burden to provide its robust solution. Addressing the public Tuesday morning, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt warned the audience that the county would not be compromising on its design. “Speaking in opposition to the 500-year flood plain bridge is essentially saying we want Bee Cave to incorporate it and to take on the cost of something less than,” Eckhardt said.

That solution would save Travis County the initial $4.2 million plus roughly $2 million added in response to the bridge’s reinforced design.

Photo by Matthew Rutledge made available through a Creative Commons license.

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