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Growing Pains, Traffic Challenges

Growing Pains, Traffic Challenges
Posted on 03/05/2017

We are a fortunate community to enjoy such strong economic conditions, a thriving housing market, family-friendly amenities, high-performing schools and close proximity to all Austin has to offer. It is no surprise that Leander ISD has been growing at a rapid rate. Unfortunately, with this kind of influx, it is often difficult for cities to build infrastructure that keeps pace with the growth. As I think all of us can attest, this has resulted in areas of heavy congestion and traffic on our roadways.

Thankfully, in LISD we also enjoy strong partnerships with parents, local business owners, city officials and government agencies, with whom we work closely to address these challenges. Within our district, we also rely on a team of specialists — transportation managers, bus route supervisors, mechanics, crossing guards — to ensure our students can get to and from school without incident, that safety measures are in place to protect the roads around our neighborhood schools, and that we are being efficient with our transportation resources.

While bus routes may seem simple enough, they are actually calculated using special algorithms to minimize time and distance traveled, to best share resources between schools and to balance the number of student riders. Unlike the airline industry, we cannot “overbook” bus seats to achieve a full bus for every route, and unlike city buses, students cannot, by law, take advantage of “standing room only” to squeeze in additional riders. A new bus must be dispatched to pick up any excess riders for that day. This is a precarious balance when, for example, the number of bus riders increases after football season when players and band members are no longer driving to school early or staying late for practice.

While the safety of students is our first and foremost concern, as a publicly funded entity we must also take into consideration the cost of certain transportation-related options. Adding a traffic light by a new football stadium to control traffic before and after games will cost LISD upward of $250,000. Busing students who live within two miles of their school is very expensive and is not a service paid for by the state. Increasing the number of these bus routes, even by 1 percent, costs the district $32,000 per year. However, there are times when students who live within two miles must be bused for safety reasons, which we classify as “hazardous routes.”

Hazardous routes can include those along roads with speed limits over 45 miles-per-hour, with heavy traffic, lacking traffic signals, sidewalks or cross walks, or several other considerations. As we see more businesses move into our area, we realize some students also face walking to school past heavily trafficked commercial entrances or emergency vehicle driveways. Starting next fall, we plan to re-evaluate our hazardous route standards to make sure we are providing safe passage for the students who need it most. Parents will be invited to provide their input through our online communication tools and I would encourage you to participate when the time comes.

We applaud the efforts by transportation officials to innovate traffic flow patterns, like the one at Ronald Reagan Boulevard and 1431. We are encouraged by their response to our requests to add dedicated turn lanes at 2222 and McNeil Drive, near Four Points Middle School (FPMS) and Vandegrift High School (VHS).

The severe congestion and dense traffic in this area and along FM 620 to the Steiner Ranch portion of our district has been a longtime concern for LISD, parents, residents, local businesses and first responders alike. It is a safety concern when hour-long commutes to school tempt drivers, particularly our inexperienced student drivers, to drive more aggressively and run red lights. It is a safety concern when the only road to and from FPMS and VHS becomes so backed up that a fire truck or ambulance would have difficulty navigating it in times of emergency.

Over several years, district officials and Board members have built up a coalition of support among local associations — business, neighborhood and safety — which has worked through the proper channels to petition the City of Austin for an additional access road from FM 620 to the Four Points area. Recognizing the constraints in the area, particularly the environmental sensitivities surrounding parts of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, we have hired a biologist and attorney, and have worked at length with experts, to create a proposal that appeases all parties. We will continue our efforts to provide this much-needed road and look forward to updating you soon.

As our communities continue to expand, we are excited to work with all of you to strengthen existing practices and explore innovations that help keep our students and neighborhoods safe, and our communities thriving. We are grateful that so many of you have chosen to make LISD your home and look forward to growing together in the years to come.