Community pleads for evacuation route at school


by SHANNON MURRAY / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @ShannonM_KVUE

Posted on September 4, 2013 at 6:18 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 30 at 10:51 AM

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas -- Two years after the giant Steiner Ranch wildfire, residents are still pleading for a better evacuation route. The evacuation in September 2011 turned into a giant traffic jam. But the city says there isn't a simple solution.

Dozens of people who live in the Four Points community met with members of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve's scientific advisory committee Wednesday afternoon at the Waller Creek Center. They say traffic and the lack of roads in Western Travis County are a disaster waiting to happen, especially for their children.

Like most of Central Texas, Western Travis County is growing every day.

"People can't live with this kind of traffic. There are some mornings we can't even get out of Steiner Ranch," said homeowner Pam Waggoner.

Like many of her neighbors, Waggoner remembers the fire on Labor Day weekend two years ago when thousands of cars sat deadlocked trying to evacuate.

"I was thinking, what if this was a true emergency and we had to get out fast? There was no way that was going to happen," she said.

The subdivision works off one major artery. People enter and exit via Quinlan Park Road and Steiner.

"We need the turn lanes at 2222 and 620 extended," Waggoner said.

The residents aren't just concerned about Steiner Ranch. They also worry about Vandergrift High School. The school sits on a dead end road with one way in and one way out. 

Vandegrift High School and Four Points Middle School are on McNeil Road off FM 2222, surrounded by trees and the preserve.

"There is no way to get the emergency vehicles in, and to get our kids out safely," Waggoner explained.

Not only is Waggoner a community member and mother of 3, she's president of the Leander Independent School District school board.

"Were asking for 30 feet of an already 400 foot corridor that's already established for infrastructure, for roads," she said.

"We have a federal permit to manage those lands and protect the endangered species," said Daryl Slusher, Assistant Director of Environment Affairs and Conservation.

Slusher says adding a road in the heart of the preserve is no easy feat.

"If you wanted to do something on the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve though, that's likely going to require major amendment to BCP and that would involve federal government and Fish and Wildlife Service," he explained.

Still this community says they're not giving up.

"I can't fathom, as a parent, the horror of any child being stuck there," said one concerned Steiner Ranch parent at the meeting.

The committee did not take any action Wednesday. The group says they will be meeting with more city and county officials in the coming weeks.