AUSTIN, Texas — A neighborhood battle is brewing over a gate that blocks a public street. And as some neighbors grow more frustrated, the gate is turning into an expensive problem for taxpayers.
The emergency access gate, which blocks Easy Wind Drive at Morrow Street, separates the Crestview and Crestview Station neighborhoods.
“It divides a connected community. It really creates a division where none needs to exist,” said Kate Sherwood, who has lived on both sides of the gate over the last year. “The City should remove it. I think it's a public street that I as a taxpayer and you as a taxpayer pay for.”
The Austin City Council approved the gate as part of a zoning change to build the new 32-acre Crestview Station neighborhood in 2011. The goal was to prevent more traffic that was expected to come to Morrow Street with the new neighborhood, which includes single-family homes, condos, apartments, a shopping center and more.
But when the gate is closed, people who live in the Crestview Station neighborhood have limited options for getting out of the neighborhood on the east side, where there’s access to State Highway 183.
One option is at Banyon Lane, which requires crossing up to seven lanes of traffic without a signal on busy North Lamar Boulevard. Another option is at Sugaree Avenue, where no traffic signal exists. The other main option is St. Johns Avenue, where there is a traffic signal.
Data from the Austin Police Department, obtained by KVUE through a public records request, revealed that police responded to 384 crashes between May 1, 2016, and April 30, 2021, in the half-mile stretch of North Lamar Boulevard that borders the neighborhood. At least one of the crashes was fatal, according to the City’s Vision Zero Map.
Photos tweeted by the Austin Transportation Department show several of the crashes that have blocked lanes and damaged cars in that area.
PHOTOS: Crashes at Lamar Boulevard and Morrow Street
"You're getting people to risk [taking] risky turns onto North Lamar from the uncontrolled intersections,” said Sanjiv Sarwate, who lives in the Crestview Station neighborhood. “The gate is a very significant safety hazard and traffic obstruction for this neighborhood.”
The Crestview Neighborhood Association declined an interview for this story.
As neighbors grow more frustrated and unheard over concerns with the gate, it’s turning into an expensive bill with the City’s Public Works Department, as the gate has been repeatedly vandalized this year.
PHOTOS: Damage to gate separating Crestview, Crestview Station neighborhoods
So far this year, Public Works crews have fixed it at least nine times. One of the most recent damages required a total replacement because the gate was broken off its hinges, a spokesperson for the department told KVUE.
All the work, including labor and materials, has cost the City more than $15,000 in 2021.
“I am thrilled that the gate is open. I am horrified to hear that it's cost $15,000 that could easily be spent on, you name it,” Sherwood said.
To get rid of the gate, KVUE learned the city council or planning commission could initiate a zoning change. Otherwise, the landowner of the Crestview Station parcel, which in this case is unclear, could initiate the change.
Councilmember Leslie Pool represents both neighborhoods. In response to our request for an interview, her office provided a statement.
“I understand that the residents are divided about this emergency access gate within Midtown Commons, and I endorse the necessary community conversations that need to happen to determine the future of this gate and any traffic mitigation that might be needed. The high cost of vandalism doesn’t do anything to further this conversation in the community, particularly for those neighbors who don’t support its removal,” the statement said.
Neighbors hope the issue gets resolved sooner than later.
“I want to be part of a connected community,” Sherwood said. “I want safe streets for my kids on both sides of what is currently dividing us.”
Pool’s office told KVUE that staff is meeting with neighbors to discuss what to do with the gate. The office is also looking into traffic data in the area from the Austin Transportation Department.
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