By Samantha Smith
A majority of Garlic Creek residents were up in arms at the last Buda City Council meeting as the council attempted to amend an ordinance to ferry children to Elm Grove Elementary across a pedestrian bridge in golf carts.
The Buda City Council, however, tabled the agenda item for further discussion after realizing the city could potentially owe money to the state for infrastructure if it changed the ordinance. The bridge is funded through the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) through the Texas Safe Routes To School (SRTS) program, which is focused on finding ways for kids to walk and bike to school.
The primary issues surrounding the debate are growing traffic concerns at Garlic Creek and FM 1626, according to Vanessa Petrea, a Garlic Creek resident and parent.
The only way for Garlic Creek students to avoid the nearby traffic congestion is by using the Garlic Creek pedestrian bridge to walk or bike to school.
The SRTS program required the school district to remove bus service from the Garlic Creek neighborhood because it is located less than two miles away from Elm Grove Elementary. An agreement was signed between the city and TxDOT in 2010 for SRTS infrastructure, which funded the pedestrian bridge.
Petrea said parents have scheduling issues that conflict with their ability to walk their children to school twice a day. Their solution has been to purchase and use golf carts to improve travel time and safety.
Buda currently has an ordinance restricting the use of golf carts in public parks. Some Garlic Creek residents are trying to get the ordinance amended in order to use the small-motorized vehicles to transport kids to school.
But what seemed like a viable solution has turned into a legal discussion since a majority of the funds for the Garlic Creek bridge came from the state funded SRTS program. Program guidelines state the funding is to be used specifically for walking/bicycling routes to school.
Legal teams from TxDOT and Buda are looking into whether the city would be responsible for paying back the funds to the state used to create the Garlic Creek bridge.
Buda Mayor Todd Ruge said the city petitioned the school district on behalf of Garlic Creek and Cullen Country residents to retain bus service in those areas. Only bus services to Cullen Country, not Garlic Creek, were continued.
But Ruge said a lot has changed in Garlic Creek since the agreement was made. Garlic Creek is now home to over 1,000 Elm Grove Elementary students.
Petrea said the transportation issues are only going to get worse with the upcoming construction on FM1626 to widen lanes and the possible addition of a third high school.
Garlic Creek parents would be willing to help the city pay back any money to the state through various fund raising activities, Petrea said.
She also suggested safety improvements, such as a crossing guard to monitor the traffic on the bridge, and a 5 mile-per-hour speed limit, if golf carts were allowed.
Petrea said the possibility of a “group walk” to school with a designated adult was explored, but many parents were reticent about the idea of sending their children to school with a stranger.
Petrea didn’t disregard the idea and said that if Garlic Creek residents chose to organize such a program, it may help alleviate parents concerns to have a trusted friend walk their kids to school instead of a “stranger.”