Once a Frontier, Elgin Again a Frontier

19 08 2010

Back in 1869, Elgin was founded as a railroad outpost and, today, it has once again become a frontier, one of semirural character. Between 1996 and 2006, Travis County’s population increased from 717,000 to 921,000 people and Bastrop County grew from 49,000 residents to 72,000, a number that Texas’ Office of the State Demographer expects to increase to 358,000 by 2040. During that period Elgin’s population nearly doubled. Furthermore, the Colorado River Corridor has been identified as the most desirable place – for all intents and purposes the very last place – to accommodate Central Texas’ future residents.

This is where Elgin is located, and its population may very well double again sooner than ten years. Drastic changes will begin occurring and, “in many ways, those changes are already underway,” said Elgin’s Mayor, Marc Holm. “More growth coming to Elgin is a foregone conclusion, and we are at a crossroads. We are becoming a small city whether we like it or not.”

We Here at The Placemaking Institute believe that this provides a wonderfully ample and fascinating opportunity to explore what can only be termed that whacky socio-economic experiment better known as Growth. And (maybe despite public opinion to the contrary), Our Most Senior Fellow can adhere to editorial oversight and direction and, so to speak, tow the line. Because this is exactly what he’s doing now while writing for The Elgin Courier, within which the following was recently published (albeit in an editorialized manner):

A Dangerous Walk to School is No Laughing Matter

Yes we chuckle when hearing grumpy yet loveable forebears dismiss today’s kids by arguing, “They’ve got it tough?! We walked uphill to school…Both ways!” But way back then they didn’t experience such increasingly dangerous auto-choked roads. And, upon further reflection, just a simple walk to school has become a very serious matter indeed these days – Especially here in Elgin.

““I do everything I can to keep my kids from walking to school in those ditches. Those roads are a deathtrap,” impassioned Silvia Garcia. “The weeds are over their heads, there’s rattlesnakes and cars speeding by that miss them by inches.”

“But it’s not just about getting to the schools. I live in Shenandoah, and you’re taking your life in your hands if you walk anywhere so you have to drive,” Tasha Holcombe threw up her hands. “I can’t even count the number of near accidents I’ve seen; I can’t believe nobody’s been killed yet! Is there anything being done about it?”

On May 27, 2010 the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced the City of Elgin would benefit from a federally-funded Safe Routes to School Grant to make FM1100 and County Line Road safer, more “walkable,” by constructing sidewalks and a pedestrian bridge and installing crosswalks. The City was awarded $343,500 for the County Line portion while TxDOT was awarded $499,200 for upgrading FM1100. Why this loss of local control?

“Because TxDOT owns (FM1100) and, yes, this adds an extra bureaucratic hoop Elgin must jump through,” Councilman Chris Cannon (Ward 3) said. “It’s frustrating. We wish we could get it done tomorrow. But we simply don’t have the money to do it ourselves right now.”

“We’re still excited about this, and now it’s in TxDOT’s hands to do the design (and engineering work),” added Councilman Keith Joesel (Mayor Pro-Tem [Ward 4]). “If they can keep up with which department’s doing what, then this is going to end up being a good thing. Somebody (from TxDOT) always needs to be available and responsive to us” when it comes to local issues.

What are some of those issues?

“We’ve been looking at straightening that t-intersection for four and a half years,” Gary Cooke, Director of Planning and Development, replied. “And (TxDOT) didn’t know anything about it.”

Wait –

“So we got them down here, and now they’re studying it. Another example is if they’re planning on putting sidewalk on two sides of road where one section of that road, if we ever get funding, will totally disappear, then they’re just throwing money away. There are also watershed issues. Everybody needs to be on the same page.”

Do you think this will occur?

“TxDOT has worked well with us and included us throughout this whole application and planning process,” stated EISD Superintendant Bill Graves. “We expect, and we hope, that that continues to be the case.”

When will construction begin?

“We’re looking at next summer before we’re building any sidewalks,” Mr. Joesel answered. “Both local government (and Elginites) need to continually make our presence known so that does indeed continue to be the case. There is always a need for greater coordination and better communication.”

Upon being informed when construction will, hopefully, begin?

“I hope nobody gets killed between now and then,” breathed Ms. Holcombe. “That’s all I can say.”

“It needs to be done yesterday,” Mrs. Garcia emphasized. “Not tomorrow, not next summer.”

Upon being relayed these reactions, “I know. I agree. We’re acting as fast as we can,” assured Mr. Cannon. “The very last thing that’s happening with this right now is that we’re waiting for somebody to get killed before we do something.”

“And this project’s not just a safety issue, it’s a quality of life issue, too,” Mr. Joessel concluded. “This is one of those things that can’t be overlooked or forgotten about. (Walkability), it’s an important piece of Elgin’s overall picture, to keep the city connected with itself and, just as importantly, keep each of us connected to ourselves instead of our cars.”

Despite our sending emails and leaving phone messages, at the time of this writing TxDOT has yet to respond to inquiries.

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