AUSTIN, Texas — On Sept. 5, the Travis County Commissioners unanimously approved to fund a dedicated traffic enforcement pilot program on State Highway 71 and US 290 West as part of their fiscal year 2020 budget.
According to a press release, the funding will go towards adding three deputies to Constable Precinct 3, which already has one deputy patroling SH 71.
“In order for us to guarantee that level of enforcement and that level of safety that we have had in the past, we went to the commissioners court and we asked them to help us build a dedicated traffic unit," said Greg Short, the president of Safer71, a nonprofit that works to create a safer highway.
Short said two deputies will patrol SH 71 and the other two will patrol US 290 West.
“If we can prove out over those two years showing with the data that these positions are revenue-neutral to the county and it's not costing taxpayers any significant amount of money to operate the units, if we can show that safety does improve and that we can maintain the trends that we’ve seen in our programs to date on 71, then if those two things can be checked then this is a program that might not just be limited here but might actually be able to be scaled up the county in future sessions," Short said.
This comes after Safer71 worked with local leaders to add safety improvements to a 14-mile stretch of the highway.
The map below shows 20 people were killed in crashes from 2014 to 2018 along the stretch of road from Bee Cave to just past the Pedernales River, according to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
This year, Short said it's a different story with just one fatal crash along that stretch of road. That number is relatively less than this time last year.
Short credits the increase in law enforcement on the stretch of road, plus road improvements, for the number of fatal crashes dropping.
“We’ve had a very visible police presence," Short said.
TxDOT said they meet with Safer71 on a monthly basis to try and find solutions that will improve safety along the stretch of highway.
"New reflective markers are being installed near the Bob Wire and Reimers Peacock intersections. Delineators and signs are being placed to prevent left turns from Reimers Peacock onto westbound SH 71," said Bradley Wheelis, a spokesperson for TxDOT. "In February, the speed limit on SH 71 was lowered from 60 to 55 mph between the Bee Cave city limit and the Pedernales River."
He also said a speed study was conducted using the 85th percentile method, and TxDOT determined the speed limit could be lowered in that area. The new speed limit was approved by the Texas Transportation Commission.
"While we can implement all of the engineering enhancements possible to build safer roads, at the end of the day, drivers hold the key to driving safely," Wheelis said. "It's up to motorists to make responsible decisions, drive safely and obey the speed limit. TxDOT continues to work with our law enforcement partners to increase patrols along this stretch of roadway."
Neighbors along the highway – like Jason Mazur, who lives in the Sweetwater neighborhood – hope the enforcement helps.
“I’m noticing way too many people on their phones – or even doing makeup – or looking for something," Mazur said. “Safety first, definitely."
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