AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County commissioners approved a roughly $1.5 million contract to build an evacuation route out of Steiner Ranch, according to documents.

It’s been more than a decade since a large wildfire in the area destroyed more than 20 homes and claimed the life of a deputy constable after he worked to help people escape.

Because there’s only one major road connecting the community with exits, traffic backups made evacuations difficult. In 2011, KXAN reported some people waited up to seven hours to get clear of danger. Others ditched their cars and took off on foot, we reported.

Steiner Ranch project scope
Steiner Ranch project scope (Courtesy Travis County)

The county has been working with people who live in the area for years to figure out the best evacuation path. Roughly three years ago, Travis County commissioners approved the emergency road which connects Flat Top Ranch Road with Montview Drive.

“In the end, it’s all about who wants it in their backyard and who doesn’t,” Jason Davis, who has lived on Montview Drive for 11 years, said. “The county has been very transparent on what the plans are.”

In the end, it’s Davis and his neighbors who will have the evacuation route in their backyards. He said even though the project behind his fence appeared to have stalled out during the pandemic, crews are again marking trees where the road’s path will be.

There will be emergency gates along the road, which are locked unless people need to evacuate.

“I think our neighborhood appreciates that it’s locked because we don’t want it to turn into a permanent entrance and exit when people are trying to avoid traffic,” Davis said.

He also noted he and his neighbors have asked that the road be opened in the other direction should there be a need in his neighborhood, which saw severe flooding just a couple of years ago, he said.

“The access route may be used in either direction, into or out of Steiner Ranch, the same situation regarding the Montview community.  The route is normally closed and not open to pedestrian or vehicular traffic unless opened by Emergency Services. The direction of flow will be determined by the Incident commander in charge of opening the emergency route,” a spokesperson for Travis County wrote.

Work could start on the project as early as next wee, when the county issues a project “notice to proceed.” The contract is for 184 days, a spokesperson for the county said.

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. You can read more about the project here.