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Highway 281 expansion plans cause concerns in Blanco County

TxDOT said it is developing preliminary plans to turn Highway 281 into a divided, four-lane highway from the Comal County Line to US 290.

BLANCO COUNTY, Texas — History can be found inside Twin Sisters Dance Hall in Blanco County, as it’s been around since the 1870s. It’s also a place where dance hall president Jo Nell Haas found something else.

“I did dance here when I was much younger,” laughed Haas. “It was where all the teenagers came at that time, and I met my husband.”

This dance hall is important to Haas and the community.

“You see the parents dancing with their two- and three-year-olds here and they are sleeping under the tables afterward, that’s going to last a lifetime,” smiled Haas.

She also wants this dance hall to last more lifetimes, which is why when she heard TXDOT has preliminary plans to expand Highway 281, she was concerned. The highway is just a few hundred feet from the dance hall.

“TxDOT didn’t reach out to us,” said Haas. “When I called and talked to them, they said we talked to some people, and I said, 'Well, you didn’t talk to us and we are a historic building.'”

She said many other landowners are concerned as well and were not aware of the possible expansion. TxDOT said they are developing preliminary plans to turn Highway 281 into a divided, four-lane highway from the Comal County Line to US 290. TxDOT said they plan to have environmental studies completed by early 2024 and that construction will depend on funding.

When KVUE asked TxDOT if any businesses could be threatened, it said: “We are in the preliminary stages and have not determined the right of way necessary to complete the project.”

TxDOT added that “the purpose of the proposed project is to enhance safety and improve mobility by providing additional roadway capacity to meet current and future traffic demands due to population growth and increased traffic volumes.”

Haas wishes the decision would depend a little more on the people in the impacted communities.

“It is a hard balance, and it’s going to grow no matter what, and we have to work with them and there are right ways to do it,” said Haas.

The dance hall itself will not be threatened by any expansion, but they are concerned about the noise and vibrations from more traffic and big trucks.

“This is a very, very old hall. It is very delicate,” said Haas. “So you have the vibrations already at times and so you get closer, the closer you come the more vibration, the more windows are going to fall out, the more fragile wood is going to crack and fall or come loose.”

Haas also has concerns over any access roads that would potentially be part of the expansion. These worries over the possible expansion are shared by people in the City of Blanco, just 10 minutes down the road, including Blanco Mayor Rachel Lumpee.

We have a beautiful town, lots of charm,” said Mayor Lumpee. “It's a wonderful place. And the traffic, I mean, you can hear it behind me, it's hard to actually appreciate the beauty with all the noise.”

TxDOT said it will not be expanding Highway 281 in Downtown Blanco, but that just means even more traffic will bottleneck into downtown.

When the expansion does come, I expect it to be piled up, lots of traffic,” said Mayor Lumpee. “I mean, we have two lanes and one light. It's going to be very crowded.”

That’s why last week the City of Blanco created a Highway 281 Task Force and is working with TxDOT and other Hill Country towns that will be impacted to discuss options. The mayor would like to see a relief route to alleviate traffic through Downtown Blanco, but she has concerns over having to acquire land and money for that.

We understand growth is coming, but there are things that you can do to try to maintain the lifestyle that we have here,” said Mayor Lumpee.

Whether it is protecting the charm of Downtown Blanco or protecting the infrastructure and history of a dance hall, this community knows growth is coming, and they just want to be a part of the conversation.

“I think we all just need to sit down and work together, instead of just developers coming in to do what they want, and TxDOT doing what they want,” said Haas. “I think they need to be considerate and ask, how can we work together on all of this?”

TxDOT said it will be holding a meeting at the end of next month for the public to share their input. 


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