TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) - After four firefighters were injured and six civilians were taken to the hospital following a crash involving a fire truck Wednesday, some Steiner Ranch residents were reminded yet again of safety concerns they've been trying to bring up to public officials.
The crash happened at RM 620 at the intersection with Comanche Trail, right around the Steiner Ranch neighborhood. A Lake Travis Fire Engine crossed the median there and struck five cars after the driver suffered a medical episode.
"Seeing that truck tipped over, my heart kind of froze for a minute," said Brian Thompto, chairman of the Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association, who received photos of the wreck his wife texted him shortly after it happened.
He explained that the crash has been what his neighbors have been talking about — both in person and online — for the last day. Neighbors were worried about the well-being of those injured and tired after dealing with hour upon hours or traffic backups in the area.
"It's on everyone's hearts and minds and, of course, brings up concerns about safety as well," Thompto said. He and his neighbors have been organizing to ask for medians and traffic improvements in the area, with efforts as recent as the last few weeks,
"Safety on 620 has been an ongoing concern, the volumes on 620 have gone up tremendously in recent years, and there's been a lot of tragic accidents along different parts of the roadway," Thompto said.
They've been trying to get the attention of elected officials, and in doing so they've learned that TxDOT has jurisdiction over that part of the road.
These neighbors haven't been alone in their concern. The office of Alison Alter, CAMPO board member and Austin City Council member, told KXAN they'd recently received a lot of public comment from people looking for more funding for safety improvements along 620.
CAMPO approved nearly $60 million for safety improvements on RM 620 earlier this month, but not for the area where this crash happened.
The improvements will go to making the road a 6-lane, divided highway between State Highway 71 and Mansfield Dam.
The Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association has been advocating for the same type of highway all the way up to US 183.
TxDOT spokesperson Diann Hodges explained that her department plans to install barriers as part of the 620 and 2222 Bypass Project, which is north of Steiner Ranch.
But Hodges noted that barriers would not have prevented Wednesday's crash because it happened in an intersection, a place where barriers don't go.
"At TxDOT, safety is our number one priority and we take this very seriously. We actively monitor our roadways to identify patterns that may help us implement additional safety measures," Hodges said in an email.
"Obviously transportation is a very complicated issue, but we support any effort that would make 620 safer, to allow more access for residents," said Braden Frame, the vice president of the Lake Travis Firefighters association who spoke with the media Thursday on behalf of the injured and impacted firefighters.
Frame explained that before the crash happened Wednesday, the firefighters involved had responded to yet another collision on 620 earlier that morning. Lake Travis firefighters also responded when fires broke out in Steiner Ranch in 2011, and Frame said crews saw firsthand how difficult it could be to evacuate people out of that area.
Thompto says what he wants to see most are long-term changes that would ease growing traffic and make it quicker to get to hospitals in an emergency.
"I think this accident just puts an exclamation point on the importance of making things happen fast," he said.
He hopes that elected officials prioritize making this corridor safer, not just after this recent incident, but into the future.
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