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

June 28th, 2010
City work on McCarty could cost county $4M

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Hays County Judge Liz Sumter, left, and Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley, left, at last week’s meeting of the Hays County Commissioners Court. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

After waiting in vain for three years for federal approval, San Marcos officials have proceeded with efforts to improve the two-lane, pot-hole-ridden portion of East McCarty Lane. However, the city’s work on the road has opened a conflict between the city and Hays County, which stands to lose a small portion of state reimbursement from the state for a package of road projects including that portion of McCarty Lane.

The city began the road work against the stated wishes of Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) and in the face of earlier criticism from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Now, officials indicate that the city’s movement on the road could cost the county up to $4 million in “pass through” funds from TxDOT.

TxDOT recently said the city can move ahead with construction, though a spokesperson for the agency said the city’s initiation of road improvements may result in a slightly smaller state reimbursement and more public meetings for residents affected by the road work.

Hays County Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos), whose precinct includes that portion of McCarty Lane, said a city investment in the project is enough to offset a reduction in state reimbursements.

The city began improvements to McCarty Lane in April, when San Marcos Capital Improvements Projects (CIP) Director David Healey told the city council that the construction work would cost 30 percent less than city’s estimate of $6.5 million. Healey said the project should be complete by Thanksgiving.

The city is turning approximately one mile of McCarty Lane into a four-lane urban roadway featuring a raised bridge, median, landscaping, irrigation, hike and bike areas and lighting.

The county has an agreement with TxDOT whereby the county would fund various road projects and receive $133.17 million in Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) dollars, which would be “passed through” TxDOT to the county. The “pass through” agreement includes FM 110, a loop around southeastern San Marcos that includes East McCarty Lane.

The pass through agreement, originally reached in 2006, was jeopardized when county voters declined a $172 million road bond election in May 2007. However, road warriors on the Hays County Commissioners Court, specifically Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) and Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-Wimberley), fought to keep the pass-through money on the table until county voters passed a $207 million road bond in November 2008.

The disputed thoroughfare calls for approximately two-miles of five and four-lane roadway from Interstate-35 to SH 123 for an estimated cost of $29.35 million, according to the county. The project is part of the first segment of the FM 110 project, or San Marcos Loop, which would approximately follow the eastern city limits from Yarrington Road to McCarty Lane.

Between May 2007 and November 2008, while the fate of the pass-through agreement was uncertain, San Marcos officials offered to pick up a portion of the FM 110 project that includes McCarty Lane. As the 2008 road bond election approached, the county and city reached an agreement calling for the city to pay $9 million of the project. City officials and residents have long been concerned that McCarty Lane is unsafe and inappropriate as a main thoroughfare to San Marcos High School, which opened its location on Old Bastrop Highway on the east side of town in 2007.

But further work by the county on the first segment of FM 110 has been stalled pending FHWA approval. FHWA requires extensive environmental studies and public meetings before it releases reimbursement funds for projects of FM 110’s scope.

More than two weeks ago, Sumter said further work on East McCarty Lane could jeopardize as much as $15.8 million in pass through reimbursements to the county.

San Marcos Assistant City Manager Laurie Moyer said early last week that the county has been waiting six years for FHWA approval. Moyer later became he city’s interim city manager after the San Marcos City Council voted, 4-3, late last week to fire City Manager Rick Menchaca.

Said Moyer, “The bottom line is that, if you put yourself in the perspective of our city council and Commissioner Ingalsbe, that piece of McCarty is in the city limits, in the county, and you’ve got — including myself, so I can relate — all these parents driving back and forth to that high school every day on this little two-lane road in a flood plain that floods out — potholes, everything — and they’re like, ‘Why can’t you guys do something about it? Fix the road. What do we pay taxes for?’ And so, the city said, ‘Okay, we’re going to get out there and get something done.'”

Sumter told her commissioners court colleagues last week that they should ask San Marcos to halt all work on the McCarty Lane project.

“Are we willing to waive that particular phrasing in the interlocal agreement where we require that they be federally-qualified (roads)?” Sumter asked.

Sumter said the longer the city continues work on McCarty Lane, the less “flexibility” the county has. Sumter added that until the FHWA issues a letter of authority qualifying the FM 110 project for federal funds, the county should not risk less of a reimbursement.

Sumter initiated the discussion last week after Ingalsbe motioned to table an agenda item for possible action, under which county staff would ask the city to halt work on the road. Ingalsbe said she had a “very successful meeting” with TxDOT officials the day before, and said the situation was under control. As Sumter began to voice her concerns, Conley interrupted her by seconding Ingalsbe’s motion, though the discussion continued. Ingalsbe later withdrew her motion and the court took no action.

“You’re talking about technicalities here, Liz,” Conley said. “You’re really splitting hairs here. Everybody’s in the know, everybody understands what’s going on. We’re moving forward in an appropriate way. If you want to have legal discussions about phrases and sentences in a legal document, that’s fine … But everybody in this — there’s no concerns or issues or liabilities to the citizens of Hays County.”

Sumter said voters approved the $207 million in road bonds with the expectation that the county would receive $133 in pass through funds. Ingalsbe said the city’s contribution would enable the county to issue less bond debt. Barton wondered if the county would be compensated to a greater extent by the city’s investment in McCarty Lane than by federal funds passed through the state.

“We calculated — this is from (Prime Strategies consultant) Mike Weaver, it’s just an estimate — that our decrease, maybe, in reimbursement, would be approximately $3-4 million,” Ingalsbe said. “The City of San Marcos has invested, or is investing, over $9 million to the project. So that’s money that we didn’t have, we weren’t going to be able to come up with, so, yes, we’ll still have a net gain.”

TxDOT Public Affairs officer John Hurt said any reduction in reimbursement to the county would “be a relatively small amount,” which he declined to estimate.

“There do need to be some changes made to the environmental document on one count,” Hurt said. “The pass-through agreement, the project — none of that’s in jeopardy of termination. There may be some adjustments made, but we’re not looking at anything that’s going to have a huge or cataclysmic impact on the project.”

Moyer said the requirements of FHWA’s environmental document do not differ from what the city has already fulfilled, except that the federal assessment requires “a very defined process” involving more public hearings.

“Part of what we’re saying is, we’re building the road in an already roadway area,” Moyer said. “We’re not creating some new road. It’s a road that was already there. So that’s why it was like, ‘Why should you have this big public thing to go through this alignment when the alignment’s right there?'”

On May 25, San Marcos Planning and Zoning (P&Z) commissioners discussed asking the county to rename McCarty Road “Rattler Road” in honor of San Marcos High School. One resident who spoke during the P&Z meeting suggested that the whole San Marcos Loop be called “Rattler Road” instead of the proposed “FM 110.”

The high schools’ recently graduated senior class is campaigning for at least a portion of the road to be named after their mascot. The San Marcos City Council last week approved, on first reading, a resolution to designate as “Rattler Road” a portion of McCarty Lane from its intersection with Old Bastrop Highway to its current end point at the city limit line near the school.

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0 thoughts on “City work on McCarty could cost county $4M

  1. Such a familiar story…sigh. Has anybody noted that the Edwards recharge zone closely abuts the land adjacent to McCarty? That’s why both San Marcos Horizons and Envision Central Texas favor our encouraging growth to the south and east of the City.

    Could the rumor be true that an amazing, but well-known, candidate would emerge in the County Judge Sweepstakes? Give me Barton. This stuff has been his life. He knows the terrain and has deep experience in the quirks of local government and its increasing complexity. Give me Gonzales-Ingalsbe; she’s a pulling horse, not a show horse. And I’m pretty sure neither is in it for the money. At least I know neither is for sale on the street corner.

  2. I sincerely doubt that the City of San Marcos has been awaiting approval from FHWA (Federal Highways Administration) for 6 years. However, they might have been referring to the time it took for the preparation of planning and engineering documents, the environmental studies that were being conducted in the past, and all of the other planning that led up to this point (not to mention the need to find funding). But don’t blame your lack of patience in doing something the right way on FHWA, i.e. the federal government. Unless of course, the assistant city manager would happen to be a tea partier and secessionist.

    Personally, I’m concerned that the temporary city manager of the City of San Marcos so readily throws environmental studies by the wayside. It wouldn’t be the first time they have done it. Think back to the crisis precipitated by their lack of concern for environmental studies on another road – not yet completed. It wound up costing more money and delaying the road.

    Did anybody flinch like I did when the article explained that “federal assessment requires ‘a very defined process’ involving more public hearings.” Well, you can kiss that good-bye. The City of San Marcos is just plain tired of hearing from its citizens.

    I wish San Marcos would play by the same rules as everyone else. Afterall, the rules are there for a reason: to protect the environment. But then, everyone who lives in San Marcos knows well the city’s attitude towards the environment. Maybe that’s why it’s only pretty near perfect…and getting worse all the time.

  3. Lila, Lila, Lila. Out there in the darkness, you must not have heard. San Marcos is being set up to be the showhorse of the Corridor–plumes flying, galloping in to force the future, in which we will be like Las Vegas, a Valhalla sprung from the wasteland, right in the faces of Austin and San Antonio, and in spite of them. We need to show those clods in New Braunfels, Kyle, Buda and Schertz that we are to be reckoned with, especially for Pam Couch’s dear sake. This is about power, speed, ambition, wiliness, and jaw-grinding optimism… or else. Heck with the tax money; it’s not real, anyway.

    Think about a slogan that says something like, “If you can’t join ’em, lick ’em!” Maybe a box of Extenze with a picture of City Hall and the “playahs” inside. A garland of hundred dollar bills clutched by a vulture, with a rattlesnake in the other talon.

    “Lord, forgive me for that, and be with all the little pygmies,” as Larry the Cable Guy says. Hey, how about borrowing his “Git ‘er done” tagline? Everybody who is anybody already knows that one, so it gives lots of “Bang for the Buck.” ( Or is that “buck for the bang”?) Oh well, I’ve wandered off topic. The fact is, what does San Marcos have to do with Hays County? They’re not the boss of us. Nobody is. This is all OUR dream, and we run it as we please.

    You’ll see, in a couple of years, when we host the College World Series and the NCAA football Championships!
    I hope you have thought about your errant ways–could get you fired, you know….

  4. LOL… I would say something tacky, but Kyle has its own problems in this direction. But I enjoyed your post. Nothing like a good laugh in the morning with your coffee.

  5. This could have gone so much better if COSM and SMCISD cooperated better. Why did SMCISD put the new High School way out there with such a rickety little two-lane road from I-35 to the new school, and no provisions for a solution before construction completion?

  6. Steve: Take one wild guess. You know, “where development goes, money soon flows,” as they say. Too bad the seed money has to be yours. Check our growth pattern over the last decade, and see if you can line it up with the CIP.

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