Changes coming to school crossings in Austin, Williamson County

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Parents concerned about their kids crossing a busy street to get to school will see changes in the coming months.

Pearson Ranch Middle School and Elsa England Elementary School, both in Round Rock ISD, are situated on a stretch of Pearson Ranch Road shared by the city of Austin and Williamson County. That makes it difficult to implement changes that are good for everyone.

A lot of students walk or bike to the two schools as neighborhoods pop up within a mile or two. However, parents say the amount of traffic on the 40 mph road, especially in the mornings, makes the walk dangerous.

“There are very few, if any, kids by themselves,” mom of three school-age kids Natalie Bogue said. “I feel like most parents don’t feel like it’s a safe place for them to cross.”

There’s a short school zone, less than 300 feet long, in front of the middle school where crossing guards help protect kids, but Bogue and others would like to see traffic lights, stop signs or signaled crosswalks.

“Those crossing guards,” she said, “I’ve seen nearly every day almost get hit by cars.”

The city, county and school district are all working together on solutions, Austin City Council member Jimmy Flannigan said. He represents the part of Austin that includes part of Pearson Ranch Road, and over the summer he met with parents alongside representatives for Williamson County and Round Rock ISD.

“I still think it might be the first meeting ever that those three jurisdictions sent elected officials at the same time,” he said.

Plans are in the works for changes at multiple intersections, Flannigan said. Williamson County will install a traffic light at one intersection near the elementary school, and the Austin Transportation Department is recommending one at another intersection once the city can find funds for it.

ATD also plans to study whether the city should install a signaled crossing, or pedestrian hybrid beacon, in front of the middle school. The study is scheduled to happen in December.

“Everybody is in agreement that the problem exists and a solution is necessary,” Flannigan said, “and we just have to push through the red tape and get things done as quickly as we can.”

Bogue would like to see other fixes, too, including an extended school zone and flashing lights on the school zone signs.

An ATD spokesperson said they adhere to “national best practices” when deciding where to put school zones. That means setting up zones where there are no signalized crossings or stop signs. The city didn’t extend it further to the north because drivers pay less attention to longer school zones, the spokesperson said.

As for the flashing lights, those could be coming as well. The city installs static signs at first, and when funding becomes available, ATD upgrades them to include lights.

While parents are waiting for fixes, “it is just going to get worse,” Bogue said. The neighborhoods bordering both schools are still growing, and more families will likely be moving in over the coming months. 

“There will be even more kids from our neighborhood shortly.”

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