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

July 21st, 2010
City, county agree to move forward on McCarty Lane

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San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz speaks Tuesday to the Hays County Commissioners Court. Sitting behind Narvaiz are HDR McCarty Lane Improvements Project Manager Mark Borenstein, left, and San Marcos Interim City Manager Laurie Moyer, right. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

The governing bodies of San Marcos and Hays County joined forces Tuesday to push ahead with the McCarty Lane improvements project, though the commissioners court, facing a possible reduction in federal reimbursement funds resulting from the city’s work, was not as united as city councilmembers.

The Hays County commissioners split in a 3-2 vote to move ahead with the project Tuesday afternoon, with Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) and Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) casting the votes in opposition.

The city now will go forward with reconstructing a T-intersection near San Marcos High School, where the future section of FM 110 will connect to McCarty Lane.

The reconstructed intersection required a change order to the city’s contract with Texas Sterling, Inc. for an additional amount not to exceed $843,330.19. Councilmembers unanimously approved the change order Tuesday night, resulting in a new contract amount of $7,035,417.43.

City officials had estimated the cost of construction to be $6.5 million. Total project cost for the city’s portion is just more than $12 million, which includes right of way acquisition and utility relocation, according to HDR McCarty Lane Improvements Project Manager Mark Borenstein.

San Marcos Interim City Manager Laurie Moyer said Tuesday that the city is using a $2.3 million contribution from the county, pursuant to an interlocal agreement, to pay for the change order.

Borenstein said the city originally planned to build a cheaper, temporary intersection.

“In the original interlocal agreement, the intersection that was designed was an interim intersection to reduce the five-lane divided section of the city’s portion at the far east end, and transition that section into a four-lane section to match up with the county project that was completed in ‘09,” Borenstein said. “That intersection in this change order will be revised to comply a little closer to what we anticipate to be the ultimate intersection when the county comes back to reconstruct (FM 110). That (change order) was done to prevent a lot of reconstruction of pavement that we would be putting down at that intersection, that would be required by the county to be torn up during construction of the future FM 110 project. So, this change order is just the final about 800 feet of McCarty Lane.”

The city recently began phase III of the project, which it plans to complete by November.

In May, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which is experiencing budget shortfalls, signaled its reluctance to reimburse the county for work the City of San Marcos is doing. As a consequence, the county may lose between $3 million and $5 million in “pass through” funds from TxDOT, according to Hays County Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos).

In late June, officials speculated that the county may lose as much as $4 million in reimbursements. According to county officials, the county is eligible for a reimbursement of between $15 million and $16 million for the McCarty Lane Improvements project. The project 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.

The county has an agreement with TxDOT whereby the county shall fund various road projects and receive $133.17 million in Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funds, which would be “passed through” TxDOT to the county. The “pass through” agreement includes the first segment of FM 110, the proposed loop east of I-35 that would connect I-35 at McCarty Road on the south side of San Marcos to I-35 at Yarrington Road north of San Marcos.

City officials and residents have long contended that McCarty Lane is unsafe and inappropriate as a main thoroughfare to San Marcos High School, which opened on Old Bastrop Highway (CR 266) on the east side of town in 2007. Wishing to expedite the project, city officials offered to pick up a portion of the FM 110 project that includes McCarty Lane.

Sumter has argued since late June that the county risks less of a reimbursement unless the city halts all work on McCarty Lane. Sumter proposes that the city and county either 1) waive the portion of the interlocal agreement that stipulates McCarty Lane must be federally-qualified road and risk a reduced reimbursement, or 2) negotiate with TxDOT and the FHWA to expedite receipt of the letter of authority qualifying the FM 110 project for federal funds.

Ford expressed the concern that if the city’s portion of the McCarty Lane project is not federally-qualified, traffic counters may be placed beyond the new intersection, and therefore would be bypassed by many vehicles traveling to the high school.

Traffic counts will determine the amount of reimbursement TxDOT gives the county. County officials also used traffic count estimates to decide how much debt to issue for the McCarty Lane project, which is among the road projects funded by the $207 million in bonds voters approved in November 2008.

San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz and San Marcos Interim City Manager Laurie Moyer were on-hand at Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting to ask for the county’s support for construction of the intersection.

“I still believe that if, in fact, our reimbursement is reduced, I’m still willing to reduce our (debt) issuance by that amount of money,” Ingalsbe said. “And as the mayor (Narvaiz) said, the city is already investing over $9 million into this project, and that certainly would account for much more than we would possibly be losing.”

Last month, Moyer said the county has been waiting six years for the FHWA letter of authority. Moyer said she is one of the many parents who have driven to the high school on the pothole-ridden, occasionally-flooded-out portion of McCarty Lane.

“I know you all are looking at potentially $5 million less in your pass through reimbursement — that’s an estimate — but in my mind it still means that you’ve saved money,” Narvaiz said. “Even if, at the end of the day, they determine that you’re not going to get $5 million back in your reimbursement — which is a large package, it includes so many other roads — we still invested $9 million in a road to allow this to occur. We’re still spending $800,000 for this project to be completed that you’re not going to have to spend again. And the $2 million that Congressman (Henry) Cuellar brought into the budget would not have happened unless he saw the long-term reality of what we needed in the loop. So, there’s so many things at play here. And what we’re trying to do in our best way is to get a road to our high school that will provide a safe route to the teachers and students and those people who live on that road, and that’s what we’re doing here.”

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