Request to lower the speed limit in the East Portion of City Limits in Dripping Springs, TX to lower fatalities and severe injuries.

For this request we are referring to the area between Trautwein and Nutty Brown road in Dripping Springs as the East Portion of Dripping Springs. Portion is defined as “a part of a whole; an amount, section, or piece of something.” The City of Dripping Springs owns land in this area, and we are asking TXDOT to consider this city-owned land when deciding on a reduced speed limit, in addition to many other safety concerns outlined here.

The residents of Dripping Springs are asking for an immediate reduction in speed limit to the East Portion of City Limits in Dripping Springs, TX.

  1. We are asking the Texas Department of Transportation to consider the safety of all of our roadway users, including children going to school and after care programs[1], as the population of Dripping Springs and the vehicles that travel per day on U.S. 290 increase year after year. Id. § 545.357[2]
  2. We are asking that you take into consideration how the residents that live in the East Portion of Dripping Springs use this area of highway as a local road for errands, school, shopping and entertainment - not for traveling long distances. Id. § 545.353[3] b1
  3. We are asking that you take the population, number of businesses, number of turns, growth projections and high likelihood of injury or fatality on a road that is used for local driving into account when you make your decision on the reduced speed limit.

§ 25.23 5ii[4]

  1. We are asking that you consider the East Portion of city-owned property along U.S. 290 as a way to allow the East Portion of Dripping Springs to have a lower speed limit without looking at the 85th percentile, due to the exception for municipalities.  Id. § 545.356
  2. We are asking that you consider a reduced speed limit for the East Portion of City Limits in Dripping Springs as the built-up businesses and residents here require speeds below the statewide maximum for safe operation. Id. § 545.356

The East Portion of Dripping Springs is the area of town east of Trautwein Road. Well known landmarks owned by the City of Dripping Springs are Belterra Village, Ledgestone Senior Living, Belterra Apartments, The Prep Preschool and Primrose Preschool, and a large amount of commercial land that is about to be developed.

The areas that are owned by The City of Dripping Springs are outlined in Figure 1, showing how there is municipality-owned land in the East Portion of Dripping Springs.

Figure 1.

The East Portion of Dripping Springs is more populated than the City of Downtown Dripping Springs due to large subdivisions that are built directly off of U.S. 290, including (but not limited to) Belterra, Highpointe, Ledgestone, and Vistas of Sawyer Ranch.

The East Portion of Dripping Springs has more than 19,000 residents, compared to Downtown Dripping Springs at roughly 4,000 when you look at the same area radius, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2.

The East Portion of Dripping Springs is very densely populated. To visualize just how densely populated this area is, Rooster Springs Elementary, in purple (Figure 3), has more students in the small 1,600 acre area than Dripping Springs Elementary, which is located within Downtown Dripping Springs City Limits.

Figure 3.

While elementary and middle school students can stay within The East Portion of Dripping Springs, High School Students are bussed on the most densely populated, and most fatal stretch of U.S. 290 twice a day. The parents of children in the East Portion of Dripping Springs have a concern that is unique to this side of town.

The middle school zone further emphasizes how there is an East and a West part of town (Figure 4). A new high school will most likely be developed in the Eastern Portion of Dripping Springs in the coming years, with budget already approved. The new high school would be located off us U.S. 290 at the intersection of Sawyer Ranch Road and Darden Hill Road. This will add to the already dense traffic in the East Portion of Dripping Springs. (Figure 5)

Figure 4.

Figure 5.

This shows the area that buses must currently travel on U.S. 290 to get from Dripping Springs High School back to the Eastern Portion of Dripping Springs. Immediate attention needs to be given to keep students safe on this stretch of highway to prevent any severe accident from occurring (Figure 5b).

Figure 5b.

In the area between Trautwein and Nutty Brown Road, in Hays County, there is a 51% chance of an injury for every accident that occurs. The speed limit is 60mph, despite there being more businesses, more residents, and more turns in this area than in the city limits of Downtown Dripping Springs.  (Figure 6)

If you get into an accident in Downtown Dripping Springs, there is a 15% chance of an injury. 85% of crashes in Downtown Dripping Springs report no injuries. Reduced speed limits reduce injuries and fatalities and are especially important on highways that run through a town or built-up subdivisions and shopping centers that act as one.

No fatalities have occurred in Downtown Dripping Springs since the speed limit was lowered to 45mph. Given the current rate of fatalities in our area, we could expect to continue to see 2 fatalities per year in the areas between Trautwein and Fitzhugh at the current speed limit. With population growth, this number may increase.

Figure 6.

State Highway 71 has a speed limit of 50mph through Bee Cave Galleria, and 78% of accidents there report no injury. This area was thoughtfully designed with dedicated turn lanes throughout all areas of the highway, in stark contrast to The East Portion of Dripping Springs where cars must slow down to 20mph to turn at 90 degree angles for most turns. Bee Cave Galleria is also not densely residential, like The East Portion of Dripping Springs.

Victims of the accidents will continue to experience injuries more than half of the time in the Eastern Portion of Dripping Springs, and more fatalities will continue to occur every year. This occurs at a significantly higher rate than other areas that are comparable in business density and residential density.

Severe injuries and fatalities will continue to occur to our residents, as well as those traveling from out of town who are unaware of the dangerous area they are about to enter, until a reduced speed limit is in place. You can see that severe injuries occur immediately at Cedar Valley and through the East Portion of Dripping Springs, and then are reduced through Henly. Figure 7 shows a heat map of severe injuries and where they are located, again proving the high concentration of severe injuries in our residential area.

Figure 7.

There are many contributing factors to why the stretch of highway in The East Portion of Dripping Springs is more dangerous and contributes to more severe injuries and fatalities than other areas of the highway. These include:

  1. Population Density - this stretch of highway is not only more densely populated but it is used as a local road to run errands, not a highway to travel long distances.

Figure 8.

  1. Business Density - this stretch of highway contains more businesses than any other area of the highway within Hays county on U.S. 290. If you compare the East Portion of Dripping Springs (and Cedar Valley) to Downtown Dripping Springs, you see that there are 169 businesses currently, with many more slotted to be developed.
  2. Traffic Density - this stretch of highway has a high traffic density due to it being used as a primary shopping area. It also is a juncture for the most highly populated subdivisions in Dripping Springs, as well as the only way to travel West of Dripping Springs from Austin.
  3. Turn Density - this stretch of highway contains a significant amount more turns than any other area due to the amount of businesses and residents that live off of it. The majority of these turns are at 90 degree angles without dedicated turn lanes.

Currently you can cross the highway at any point, any time of day. These turns are a top contributing factor to accidents - drivers slow down to 20mph to turn off the highway and try to enter onto the highway with cars traveling at 60mph from both directions.

Current speed zone testing does not allow for consideration of average speed to include the speed of any vehicle that is slowing down for a turn, or for the vehicles behind them. Only “free floating” vehicles can be used to determine the speed zone. The East Portion of Dripping Springs contains 35% more turns than other areas of the highway (Figure 9). Due to the use of the highway as a local road and the amount of turns that are done on and off of it, we would recommend that the 85th percentile take into consideration all vehicles traveling on the road for an accurate representation of true speed, and how slowing down and speeding up from 60mph continuously throughout this area contributes to unsafe driving conditions. §25.23 3Bii[5]

Figure 9.

  1. Urban Sprawl - The increase in vehicles that travel per day on this highway grows year after year, just like the population in Dripping Springs. There are currently 30,000 people who live in Dripping ETJ, and 35,000 vehicles that travel per day on U.S. 290 in the East Portion of Dripping Springs, according to the Belterra Village Developer, Endeavor. The projections for growth are exponential, with an estimated 9,000 new homes that will be built in the next 6 years according to DSISD (Figure 10). 9,000 new homes will bring a lot of extra vehicles on the road. We need to stay ahead of growth and the amount of vehicles this growth will put on our roads to prevent more fatalities and severe accident from occurring and protect our residents.

Figure 10.

The image below (Figure 11) shows the fatalities that have occurred in the East Portion of Dripping Springs from 2010-2019, where the speed limit is currently set at 60mph, despite city-owned land, and a higher population of businesses, residents and turns than The City of Downtown Dripping Springs. This is the exact area where the proposed boundaries for the East Portion of Dripping Springs speed limit would be. The reduced speed limit would start at Trautwein and end at or right past Nutty Brown Road at the Hays County Line.

There have been 13 accidents involving fatalities in this area, including Cedar Valley, which is included in our recommendation to continue the reduced speed limit.

Figure 11.

You can easily see how the fatal crashes, due to more than half of the accidents in this area involving injuries, are much higher than in The City of Downtown Dripping Springs, where 2 accidents involving fatalities have occurred in the past 9 years (2010-2019) (Figure 12). No fatalities have occurred in this area since the 45mph speed limit through town was introduced.

Figure 12.

Travis County Considerations for Safety with Businesses and Residents in Cedar Valley

We also urge you to explore maintaining a reduced speed limit until Fitzhugh road, to further prevent the high rate of severe accidents and fatalities that occur between Nutty Brown Road and Fitzhugh on the Travis County side, known as Cedar Valley. A specific area of concern includes the immediate area of Cedar Valley Shopping Center. Future considerations due to the design of the Oak Hill Parkway are listed below under “Future Considerations”.

We want to see these businesses continue to thrive, but due to the danger of exiting into and out of the shopping center, many locals are choosing to bring their business to areas safer to travel to that do not require getting onto U.S. 290, or that allow them to get into businesses through safe, dedicated turn lanes.

If the speed limit were to be reduced only from Trautwein to Nutty Brown Road we would urge you to consider making a dedicated turn lane into Cedar Valley Shopping Center and Rim Rock Trail on U.S. 290 Eastbound.

Future Considerations

Besides the immediate need for a reduced speed limit to keep residents safe when traveling near their homes, there are future developmental plans that further increase safety risk for residents of the East Portion of Dripping Springs. The development of the Oak Hill Parkway comes with its own considerations for The East Portion of Dripping Springs. Cars exiting the parkway need to be made aware of the new road conditions they are entering.

Vehicles will exit off of the parkway and have 3 miles to continue at 60mph before reaching Fitzhugh (Figure 13), the area we recommend a reduced speed begin. Cars exiting the parkway and traveling at 60mph through the East Portion of Dripping Springs will increase accident rates, and in turn, increase injury severity and fatality rates. Drivers who are not from the area will not be expecting to enter a residential area where cars are able to turn across a 4 lane highway, and they will not expect slowing down to 20mph to allow vehicles in front of them to turn into residential streets.

Signs will need to be added warning oncoming vehicles to slow down and that the posted speed limit will be changing. Vehicles should begin to slow down at Fitzhugh to allow cars to pass through the light at Nutty Brown and alleviate congestion that will occur in this area.

Figure 13

In Summary:

Due to the current circumstances mentioned, we are asking TXDOT: how can you defend the current speed limit of 60mph on this stretch of U.S. 290? What threshold must the East Portion of Dripping Springs meet for TXDOT to lower the speed limit to reduce fatality and injury rate?

We are asking TXDOT to either lower the speed limit to a more acceptable speed like we encounter in Downtown Dripping Springs, or to defend their current position on the speed limit, in depth, by answering the following questions with specific data that supports their decision:

  1. How does TXDOT defend 60mph as an acceptable speed limit when you take into consideration the population density, business density and turn density in the Eastern Portion of Dripping Springs?
  2. How does TXDOT defend 60mph as an acceptable speed limit when you consider the population growth in the area and projected population?
  3. How does TXDOT defend 60mph as an acceptable speed limit when you see that other areas of the highway do not have as high of a fatality rate?
  4. What accountability will TXDOT take for fatalities or severe accidents that occur in this area in the future, should those injuries or fatalities have been preventable with a lowered speed limit of 45mph?

Should you choose not to reduce the speed limit to an acceptable speed, please detail for us how this choice is, without a doubt, the safest choice for our residents.

  1. We would like to see specific examples and data that supports your choice that use areas that are similar to ours in population density, business density, traffic and turn density that prove that this speed limit is the safest choice. The examples given must be of a comparable highway where there are no exit ramps, dividers between lanes, etc., and very few dedicated turn lanes.
  2. We would like to see the data and projections on how keeping the speed limit as is, is safer than reducing the speed limit, and how reducing the speed limit would lead to more severe injury and fatality.

         

 We are requesting a formal answer on this matter that can be delivered publicly by August 1, 2019. We are hoping that we can work together to make our community safer.


[1] Primrose is a private school located in close proximity to US290. Primrose has a kindergarten, which, while not mandatory, is considered primary education in Texas. Primrose also offers an after-school program that includes busing from elementary schools for other elementary-aged students. The parking lot is located 389 feet from HWY 290.

[2] https://texas.public.law/statutes/tex._transp._code_section_545.357

[3] https://texas.public.law/statutes/tex._transp._code_section_545.353?highlight=545.353&hide=no

[4] http://txrules.elaws.us/rule/title43_chapter25_sec.25.23

[5] http://txrules.elaws.us/rule/title43_chapter25_sec.25.23