Hays County commissioners hope to complete an Interstate-35 overpass in Buda with federal stimulus money through the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). Above, a temporary road is shown alongside four unbuilt lanes of Buda’s cement truck bypass, which are on hold until the overpass can be completed. Below is shown the general plan. Photos by Sean Butera.
By SEAN BATURA
As the federal government parcels out stimulus money through various agencies and state governments, Hays County commissioners staked out a place in line this week.
Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) moved for the court to try and secure $7.3 million of $29 million available through the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) to complete a long-awaited truck bypass overpass in Buda. The proposed overpass would connect Robert S. Light Street on the west side of Interstate-35 with Hillside Terrace on the east side.
The court voted Tuesday to direct county staff, in consultation with Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) and Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos), to prepare second and third choice projects for submission to CAMPO. The second priority project will be safety improvements on SH 21, with the third being a similar project on Ranch Road 12.
However, the odds against receiving the money are long. CAMPO Executive Director Joe Cantalupo said this week that local governments with Hays, Travis and Williamson Counties have submitted 250 projects for assistance from the $29 million in stimulus money.
Before voting unanimously Tuesday to send the overpass project proposal to CAMPO, commissioners heard testimony from five men representing local government and economic interests, all of whom supported the proposed overpass, which the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) had agreed to build three years ago until it ran out of money for the project.
“The city has spent a lot of money on infrastructure in support of economic development in that priority growth area, the biggest of which was the $3.8 million we invested in the truck bypass on the assumption that TxDOT was going to build an overpass at the end of our bypass,” said Buda Councilmember Ron Fletcher. “But they left us holding the bag.”
Texas Lehigh Cement Company President Robert Kidnew told the commissioners that constructing the overpass and making the access roads one-way would result in significant fuel savings for his trucks, which now have to drive four miles further and idle at intersections before they can get to the interstate. Besides putting the company — the largest industrial taxpayer in the county — at “a competitive disadvantage,” Kidnew said safety issues are involved.
“I drive that (access) road, my family drives that road and our boys drive that road.” Kidnew said. “It needs to be one-way for safety.”
Though the truck bypass road, built in anticipation of the doomed TXDOT overpass, has routed heavy truck traffic out of downtown Buda, the temporary road connecting it to the access road is sustaining damage, as it was only supposed to last a few months until the overpass was completed. Unless the overpass is built, Barton said, the temporary section of the truck bypass will have to be repaired at considerable cost to the county.
“(The overpass) will help us see economic development on that intersection,” Barton said. ” … It will put people to work right away doing the design and construction of this overpass, and that will ripple out to help restaurants and suppliers and jobs.”
Barton said the overpass will also help decrease regional air pollution, an increasing problem, which, he said, is evidenced by the region’s close to failing marks under federal standards for regional air quality. A letter from Kidnew to the commissioners court said the overpass would cut truck emissions because the complete fleets for Texas Lehigh and Centex Materials would burn 90,000 gallons less diesel fuel per year. The cement trucks driving the bypass from those two companies number 390 per day.
Two-thirds of federal funds for local transportation infrastructure made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to Texas have been allocated to the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC), with the rest going to metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) by formula. Money given to MPOs is disbursed to projects at the discretion of MPO board members, while the TTC dispenses ARRA money directly to specific projects.
“I think our goal should be not to build a two-lane bridge but to try to get TXDOT to take maybe some of the money they’re getting from the stimulus package to put with the CAMPO $7 million to build that four-lane, with the access roads moved and the frontage roads one-way,” said County Judge Liz Sumter. “That truly is the project that will do everything that we want it to do. The two-lane, yes, will relieve some truck traffic, but it doesn’t achieve what we really need to achieve with it.”
Sumter said there would probably be stiff competition for funds coming from the other local governments within the three-county CAMPO region, though small municipalities usually do not have the resources to go through the expensive and lengthy environmental review process necessary to getting federal funds.
“When you look at the CAMPO board, Hays County has three votes,” Sumter said. “So we’re not in a good position in terms of votes. What we have to make sure of is that our projects meet all the rules that are being put forward, and have some regional significance so that Austin or Williamson County can see the value of having that done, how that might impact them, too.”
Hays County may not have that much trouble getting the Buda overpass built if projects from other local government entities are lacking. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said his county will probably not submit any project proposals to CAMPO because the first call for projects stipulated that the only projects considered would be those that could be ready for construction within 90 days and were not already funded.
“We don’t sit around with projects ready for construction in 90 days without the money,” Biscoe said. “We have to identify sources of funding before we design and acquire right-of-way. Those actions take about a year to 18 months. So when we’ve done that much work, we have the money.”
CAMPO’s second call for projects allowed for the consideration of projects that could be “shovel-ready” within a year, making possible more submissions. However, Hays County Director of the Resource Protection, Transportation and Planning Jerry Borcherding said the new call for projects only came to his desk early last week. Biscoe said the reminder e-mail for the submission deadline went out Tuesday morning, but he was in commissioners court all day long and so could not work with staff to get a last minute proposal ready.
After the March 19 deadline for submission of project proposals to CAMPO, the public comment period on the projects will be open from 5:00 p.m. on April 6 to 5:00 p.m., May 13, with a public hearing scheduled for May 11. CAMPO will also hold four community meetings in which it will solicit public comments on the projects before its board members cast their votes.Email | Print