San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 15th, 2010
RR 12 project could cut Wonder World Drive traffic counts

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The Wonder World Drive extension, scheduled to open on July 24, will link Hunter Road with RR 12. City of San Marcos photo.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

City of San Marcos officials are concerned that a Hays County project to improve RR 12 will reduce traffic counts on the Wonder World Drive extension, thereby reducing reimbursement payments from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

TxDOT agreed to help pay for the Wonder World Drive extension, a 3.2-mile, four-lane, limited-access divided parkway linking Hunter Road with RR 12. TxDOT agreed to contribute $3.03 million to $6.06 million in annual reimbursements to the city for a 10-20 year period based on traffic volumes on the new roadway.

Assistant City Manager Laurie Moyer said the city will install permanent traffic counters to track vehicle volumes, and TxDOT will send the first reimbursement 13 months after the Wonder World Drive extension is opened to the public.

The extension will open on July 24. In September, the county is scheduled to begin three separate projects on RR 12.

San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz asked city staff at last week’s city council meeting if the county would keep RR 12 open so people can make the turn onto the Wonder World Drive extension once it is finished.

“I do not know for sure, but I do know that RR 12 is the only route to Wimberley and Blanco County that’s the easiest, successful way to go,” Moyer told councilmembers. ” … So, I would anticipate that the road would have to stay open to traffic while they do their work. But we will verify that and get that information back to the city council.”

Moyer said Monday that the traffic counts may be affected by the construction.

“However, since there are not a lot of alternate routes, I wouldn’t anticipate a huge reduction,” Moyer said.

Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-Wimberley), who represents residents living within the area of the anticipated construction on Ranch Road 12, and who oversees road projects in his precinct, said he thinks the projects will “not have that much of an effect at all” on traffic counts.

“What, if anything, would be lost in that 12-month period of time will certainly be made up by our improvements in the 19 years that (the city has) after that to get their money back from the State of Texas,” Conley said.

Conley said it would have been ideal to get the extension and the RR 12 improvements done at the same time.

“But, unfortunately our worlds don’t always fall in the same timeline, and we had issues at the county that we had to resolve on Ranch Road 12, and we’ve done so,” Conley said. “But this takes a little longer than the project that the city’s doing with the county’s support, the Wonder World Drive extension. So I wish my colleagues at the city the best with that project. It’s a very important project, a project that I supported, and it’s important to my constituency. I wish they could have been done simultaneously, but, the reality is, things don’t always work out that way.”

Conley said a county project on Pioneer Trail amounts to “safety improvements” on RR 12 between Pioneer Trail and Wonder World Drive, including left turn lanes, deceleration lanes and shoulders. Conley said the road work may take a year, though he is hoping it may be completed sooner.

“I think once those safety improvements are made, that will be better for the city’s position long-term than if nothing was done at all,” Conley said.

The Pioneer Trail project is being funded with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money — federal stimulus dollars.

Hays County Road Division Director Jerry Borcherding said that though firm HNTB created a traffic control plan to eliminate or mitigate any immediate negative effects of construction on Ranch Road 12, some people traveling from the direction of Wimberley will forego the Wonder World Drive Extension route and instead take FM 3237 to FM 150.

“I would expect there would be some reduced traffic on Ranch Road 12 from the people going through Kyle to avoid the construction,” Borcherding said.

The three RR 12 projects, funded by county bond sales from the $207 million debt package approved by voters in November 2008, are:

– Project #9, or the Sink Creek project, which will involve the replacement of a multibox culvert with a bridge over Sink Creek and the improvement of pavement in that area, is anticipated for completion in March 2012, according to road bond project manager firm HDR.

-Project #8, or RR 12 at Hugo Road project, which will involve the addition of a left turn lane and other intersection safety improvements at the meeting point of those two roads and may be complete by May 2011, according to HDR.

-Project #6, or the Junction project, which involves the realignment of RR 12 and FM 32 to allow for a T-intersection at the meeting point of those two roads, including other safety improvements, may be finished by March 2012, according to HDR.

The Wonder World Drive extension is intended to improve traffic flow to and from western Hays County. The project also is intended to ease heavy truck and through traffic in San Marcos’ downtown area and residential neighborhoods. San Marcos Capital Improvements Projects (CIP) director David Healey said the Craddock Avenue extension from Bishop Street to the Wonder World Drive extension will be completed in September.

Councilmember Gaylord Bose expressed support for a vehicle weight limit on RR 12 between Wonder World Drive and Moore Street. Bose asked staff if the city had plans to impose such a weight limit.

“Well, we haven’t discussed that,” Moyer replied. “It will be under the control of the city, so it could be (subject to) a weight limit if (you choose) to go that route.”

San Marcos’ pass-through financing agreement with TxDOT for the Wonder World Drive extension gives the city ownership of Hopkins Street and Hunter Road, though Moyer said the widening of a 0.79-mile stretch of Hunter Road between Wonder World Drive and Bishop Street will likely delay the transfer. The 0.79-mile stretch of Hunter Road must remain a TxDOT roadway until the widening project is completed because the bonds available for the project are for the improvement of TxDOT infrastructure only. The city will likely impose a vehicle weight limit on Hopkins Street, from which trucks engaged in special deliveries would be exempt.

“Hopkins will no longer be a state street, it will be a city street,” Moyer said. “There is a portion between Bishop and Wonder World that we want to remain on the state system in order to do the improvements that you gave us direction on about a month ago. But we have talked with TxDOT and we are working on changing the signage on Interstate-35 … to direct traffic to (FM) 3407 (Wonder World Drive).”

The Wonder World Drive extension costs $26.38 million for construction and $16 million for engineering, environmental assessments, land acquisition, archaeological studies, and “mitigation.” The U.S. Congress allocated $10 million to the project in 2005 for right-of-way, preliminary studies and permits, and engineering for the project, which was approved by voters in a 1998 bond election.

Healey presented councilmembers with a status update of four other CIP projects involving McCarty Lane, the Rio Vista Tennis Courts, Sessom Drive, and Rio Vista Terrace.

McCarty Lane, currently a two-lane road, is to be a four-lane urban roadway to include a raised bridge and median, landscaping, irrigation, hike and bike areas and lighting. Groundbreaking for the $6.5 million project took place this week on a section of road east of the City of San Marcos Conference Center.

One goal of the project is to improve safety for people traveling to and from San Marcos High School. Healey said the construction contract for the McCarty Lane project came in 30 percent less than the engineer’s estimate of $6.5 million, and the project should be complete by Thanksgiving.

Healey said Phase 1 of the $1.15 million Sessom Drive project will completed in late April or early May. TxDOT will resurface the road after the conclusion of Texas State’s spring semester. The city is attempting to improve Sessom Drive roadway safety, alleviate drainage issues, repair failing pavement, reduce hydroplaning occurrences and number of accidents. Healey said TxDOT’s work along Sessom Drive should end by early July.

The $9.3 million Rio Vista Terrace improvement project, which began last month, will continue for two years, Healey said. All residential driveways will be kept open during the course of construction, Healey said. The city will issue a progress report to residents in early May, and will hold a public meeting in mid-June. The project is intended to provide new water and wastewater lines, storm drains, sidewalks, curbs, gutters and streets for 300 families and 25 businesses.

The $600,000 Rio Vista tennis courts project, mostly completed last October, resumed so that lighting, surface painting, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance issues could be resolved, Healey said. The project will not be completed until further consultation with the surface and slab manufacturer and final repairs are concluded, though Healey did not say when that may be.

Healey said the city’s CIP Department has 53 projects underway, including 16 projects under construction. Of those 53 projects, 20 projects will commence by the end of this calendar year.

San Marcos voters in November 2005 approved general obligation bond projects totaling $11.2 million, of which $4,495,000 in projects remain.

City councilmembers in 2009 approved $8.7 million in certificates of obligation (CO) sales for projects, such as the purchase of a fire truck, river bank stabilization, parkland improvements and transportation projects.

The city’s CIP process was revised in 2009 in order to “provide the Council with a higher level of input and review before the actual adoption of the Capital Improvement Plan,” in the language of the city’s 2009-10 annual budget. After nearly five months of input from city staff, residents, and planning and zoning commissioners beginning in January 2009, a list of projects was developed for the next three years. As of the beginning of this budget year, estimated funds required for the projects totaled $20,232,200.

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