On a sweltering Texas afternoon, Del Valle’s Ross Road is packed with the vehicles of parents preparing to pick up their kids from school. Their engines off and gears in park, they wait hours before dismissal for the chance to avoid the storm of traffic ready to strike as soon as the bell rings.
The two-way road extends over a two mile stretch and houses three schools, one of which is the sole high school campus for the district. Although the elementary school dismisses at 2:55 p.m., the middle school and high school clock the end of day at 4:00 p.m. and 4:25 p.m. respectively. That’s more than 10,000 students flooding the road within one hour. With dismissal times and campuses so close to each other, locals, parents or not, find driving along Ross Road on weekday afternoons is a chore.
“I used to leave my house at about 3:15 p.m.. He doesn’t get out of school until four,” says Tonya Morris whose son attends Del Valle Middle School. “Fortunately, I work from home. I can take my lunch break around the time he gets out of school.”
For other high school student parents, the after-school pickup routine involves parking outside one of the businesses along Ross Road. Del Valle High School parent Theresa Bueno adjusted her daily schedule to leave 90 minutes before dismissal because of her experiences trying to exit Dollar General, Sonic Drive-In, or the Chevron gas station parking lots along the road.
“It's a nightmare to get out of those parking [lots], Bueno says.
Her longest commute home was after picking up her daughter outside Dollar General. The drive home would normally take her 15 minutes, but that afternoon traffic stalled her arrival an hour and a half. Because of the unpredictability of the traffic Bueno says she often brings her work with her to try and complete during her waiting time before dismissal.
“It’s kind of stressful. We're working adults and we're trying to get our kids picked up and doing life as it is, and then having to get there early and some days we can and some days I can't,” Bueno says.
Beyond the time inconvenience, parents worry about the safety of their children who cross the road to meet their parents or walk home. Del Valle Middle School parent Tonya Morris says that although her son could walk home from school, she insists on picking him up because of her concerns about inattentive drivers and students.
“Sometimes you have to stop hard on your brakes just to not hit anyone really. I mean, you have to really be aware of your surroundings,” Morris says. “So you just need to be very aware because these kids are not, not at all. We have to be their advocates.”
Parents of students are not the only ones affected by the stress of the Ross Road traffic. Many residents of the subdivisions along Ross Road must navigate through the congestion to get to other parts of the city. Residential neighborhood Berdoll Farms is one of the subdivisions greatly affected by the traffic holdup.
Tony Maldonaldo, former President of the Berdoll Farms and Meadows Home Association, knows about this obstruction all too well. After living in Del Valle for over a decade, he relocated to Salado, Texas in July 2021. Although he no longer lives in the community, he continues to work with Austin City Councilmember Vanessa Fuentes, making plans to enhance the community and relieve the problems caused by current infrastructure.
Maldonado says that although the efforts to plan out resolutions is a step in the right direction, the Ross Road congestion will take time to resolve due to the long bureaucratic processes needed to make changes.
“It's just like a two and a half mile stretch of road, but you have three different jurisdictions and trying to get them to take a comprehensive look at the entire corridor is very difficult because you're talking to county engineers, city engineers and State of Texas engineers,” Maldonado says. “To get those people to sit in the same room at the same time has been very challenging.”
Councilwoman Fuentes says plans are underway to approve a design for the change in infrastructure at the October 21 city council meeting. Following Proposition B’s approval in the 2020 election, the portion of the $460 million voter-approved bond for transportation infrastructure shows promise for changes in the Del Valle community, but Fuentes does not anticipate construction starting for another year.
While awaiting for city officials to approve the proposals, the community must continue their routines to avoid traffic and rely on each other to find solutions in the meantime.
“We started meeting and having conversations with the school district and our transportation staff earlier this summer to explore temporary solutions,” Fuentes says. “We're working on trying to find ways to be creative and to help mitigate traffic there.”
Del Valle High School released a statement to parents on September 17 updating their procedures for drop off and pick up. Intended to improve traffic flow, drop off/pick up is no longer permitted in front of the school. Starting September 20, parents are expected to enter the parking lot from the stoplight on Thomas Street along Ross Road where staff will be directing traffic.
“Our overall goal is to assist with traffic on Ross Road and to improve our bus arrival and departure flow,” Executive Director of Communications Christopher Weddle says.
“Traffic on Ross Road has significantly improved since the first week of school as our families learn the procedures during drop-off and pick-up,” says Weddle. “As with any district procedure, we continually monitor and adjust the plan as needed.”
It’s yet to be seen whether this will have lasting effects. Although new policies are drafted and slowly implemented, current residents worry about how much the issues might escalate before they get better.
“There's not an easy fix or solution to it,” Bueno says. “I mean, I wish there was, but you know, it's going to take time.”
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