By BRAD ROLLINS
In a rare unanimous decision, Hays County commissioners voted this morning to “conceptually” accept a reworked roads package from the state transportation department that scraps plans for Ranch Road 12 expansion but includes improvements to Interstate 35 and U.S. 290.
Like a deal effectively scuttled in May when the county’s voters declined to issue bonds to pay for it, the state would reimburse the county up to $133 million over 20 years for construction of the first three-mile segment of Farm-to-Market Road 110, the San Marcos loop and widening Farm-to-Market Road 1626. The $52.7 million originally designated for widening Ranch Road 12 will instead go toward adding center and turn lanes to a stretch of U.S. 290 near Dripping Springs and new interstate overpasses and frontage roads in Kyle and Buda.
The court voted 5-0 to preliminarily accept the deal but still must decide whether to venture out for another countywide bond vote in May or pay for all or part of the package through sale of revenue anticipation bonds, possibly through the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.
“I don’t see the package changing at all at this point. Now it’s just refining the numbers,” County Judge Elizabeth Sumter said.
As he has done at several points in recent years, Bob Daigh, the state transportation department’s Austin district engineer, said a “perfect storm” of slashed federal and state appropriations, aging roads, growing populations and increased construction material costs have severely crimped the agency’s capacity to pay for new roads. In the last year, the agency has cut its engineering and design budget by 57 percent and its right-of-way acquisition budget by 50 percent, he said.
The funding crisis “is getting to such a point where … every state and federal dollar we have will be needed just for maintenance and rehabilitation,” Daigh said.
The new package presents sticky issues for Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley who negotiated the original deal but would find funding for Ranch Road 12 in his precinct left out in the new agreement. In voting for the package, he said, “Until I have more time to think this through, my vote in conceptual support is exactly that — conceptual.”
Under the reworked agreement, TxDOT would build a new interstate overpass at Farm-to-Market Road 1626 where Seton Medical Center is under construction; make frontage roads one-way from FM 2001 to FM 1626; and build turnaround bridges at County Road 210 and FM 1626. The city of Kyle would contribute $11 million to the $66.6 million project. Also as part of the deal, TxDOT would build center turn lanes and shoulders on U.S. 290 between Trautwein Road and Nutty Brown Road.
County Judge Elizabeth Sumter and Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton will work with Daigh to finalize the arrangement. Conley meanwhile said he is meeting with TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz a week from today to discuss funding options for redesigned improvements to Ranch Road 12. He has been working with Wimberley leaders on a new parkway design for the widening.
Since the bond package’s failure nine months ago, the state agreement has been on hold as county leaders jockeyed behind the scenes and roads bounced back and forth between the court, the court-appointed citizens’ transportation advisory board and that group’s thicket of subcommittees.
Pending an upcoming discussion from the city council on adding to their capital improvement program the Farm-to-Market 110 segment, a spur from Interstate 35 at McCarty Lane to Texas 123. The city of San Marcos would assume most of the upfront cost of FM 110 and receive partial reimbursement from the state via the county.
FM 110 is estimated to cost $29.3 million in the original pass-through agreement with a $17.6 million reimbursement depending on how many vehicles use the road. The road would provide access to the 10-floor Embassy Suites hotel and adjoining conference center at the interstate and McCarty Lane and pass near the new high school on the Old Bastrop Highway.
COVER PHOTO AND ABOVE: A school bus rumbles down narrow, uneven McCarty Lane from the new San Marcos High School. The 10-floor Embassy Suite hotel, scheduled for completion in October, rises at the road’s intersection with Interstate 35. A three-mile segment of Farm-to-Market Road 110 would follow part McCarty Lane’s path before veering to Texas 123. NEWSTREAMZ PHOTO by BRAD ROLLINS
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