TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Travis County says a years-long project to make Steiner Ranch safer against wildfires could be one bird season away from happening.
Almost three years ago, Travis County commissioners approved a $2.7 million emergency road connecting Flat Top Ranch Road with Montview Drive. That vote came after a 2011 fire in the area where 23 families lost their homes and a Travis County Deputy Constable died after helping people escape.
Fire officials tell KXAN the evacuation in 2011 lasted as long as seven hours to complete.
Now, the county says the project design for the road is nearly done — county staff are reviewing the plans and bid documents now. It’s the last red tape before construction can start, but because it’s an endangered species habitat, they won’t actually kick off the project until after bird season, county officials said. For that reason, construction on the project is expected to begin on Sept. 1.
“There’s one way in and one way out,” Jacqueline De Los Santos, who has lived in Steiner Ranch since 2018, said. “Once you get past a certain light, it’s just a two-lane.”
De Los Santos says if there were to be a mass evacuation now, that road — which she says doesn’t extend wider than four lanes — would be a mess.
“I’m happy to hear that they’re [building the evacuation route],” De Los Santos said. “The fact that they’re taking steps to do that is awesome.”
In Central Texas, conditions are more conducive to wildfires during the winter because the area receives less rain and humidity levels are lower. That means the area has seen the technical end to our fire season, though fires can happen year-round.
Large portions of Steiner Ranch are listed in the high or elevated wildfire risk category on the City of Austin’s wildfire risk map.
“We have so many trees and vegetation here,” De Los Santos said.
Construction was supposed to begin roughly two years ago, according to an anticipated timeline posted on the county’s website page dedicated to the project. That timeline was subject to change, it says.
Now, more than a decade after that historic wildfire, Steiner Ranch is looking at a definitive timeline for a road that could help people evacuate more quickly in the future, should they need to.