Williamson County, Austin move forward with traffic safeguards in busy area near Round Rock ISD schools

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WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A joint project between the City of Austin and Williamson County may help address some long-standing traffic and safety concerns near several schools in the north Austin area.

The Austin City Council approved an agreement Wednesday with Williamson County to potentially add new safeguards along Pearson Ranch Road, which runs by three Round Rock Independent School District school buildings. The proposal now needs approval from the Williamson County Commissioners Court, which may vote on it in early July.

The plan came together after months-long discussions between Terry Cook, the county commissioner for precinct one, and Jimmy Flannigan, the City Council member for district six.

School leaders, parents, and city/county officials helped formulate the proposed fixes to deal with safety issues for vehicles and pedestrians alike near Patsy Sommer Elementary School, Elsa England Elementary School and Pearson Ranch Middle School.

“What we have, unfortunately, with two of those schools [Elsa England and Pearson Ranch] is that Round Rock ISD built them on one side of a very busy street,” Flannigan explained. “All of the kids that attend that school are on the other side of that very busy street, so you have kids crossing and having kind of a traffic nightmare. The more unsafe it is to cross the street, the more parents put their kids in cars and make the traffic nightmare worse, so we have evolved a series of improvements in partnership with Williamson County, which will hopefully address most, if not all, of these concerns.”

One part of the plan includes the addition of a stoplight at the intersection of Avery Ranch Boulevard and Pearson Ranch Road. The proposal states that the city and the county will each fund half of the estimated $310,000 cost. Installation would be done by the city. The city’s portion of this project will come from Quarter Cent funds, while an additional $155,000 for installation will be paid to the city by the county.

Plans also call for extending the 25 mph school zone in the area along Pearson Ranch Road, which Commissioner Cook explained was needed for a couple of reasons.

“One, because people still dart across the road there to get to that elementary school,” she said. “And two, we need to slow the traffic down because so many cars are pulling in and pulling out of the elementary school.”

The city and county proposed adding flashing school zone signs to alert drivers to the speed limit change.

Williamson County may also chip in an estimated $130,000 to add a new “pedestrian hybrid beacon” at Pearson Ranch Road and Iveans Way. This money would be paid to the city for installation. The beacon would have tall crossing arms that extend above the intersection and flash when students cross to make vehicles stop.

“We will still require a crossing guard there,” Cook said. “Especially to keep the kids from hitting the beacon too many times and no cars ever get to go through.”

The city also plans to install a permanent fence in a small section on the west side of Pearson Ranch Road, where families in the neighborhood there use the dead end at Pick Axe Trail to cross the street to Elsa England Elementary.

Shital Gujarathi and her youngest son usually take that unofficial crossing, but it’s always concerned her.

“People are crossing really fast, and they are going about the speed limit since it says 25,” Gujarathi said. “But still, it looks like everybody is really busy in the morning, and they don’t want to slow down.”

She’s encouraged to hear about the proposed safeguards since her neighbors have long griped about that section of Pearson Ranch Road.

“People are complaining about the speed limit, that people are not slowing down,” Gujarathi said. “So, yeah, it’s a complaint for all of our school parents.”

Cook said the $285,000 that Williamson County is expected to contribute to the joint project would come from funds saved after the road widening nearby on Neenah Avenue.

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