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

July 25th, 2010
Wonder World Drive extension opens to fanfare after 20 years

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Antique automobile from Dick’s Classic Car Garage escorted local officials as the Wonder World Drive extension opened 20 years after conception. Photo by Andy Sevilla.

By ANDY SEVILLA
Associate Editor

With great fanfare, San Marcos city officials opened the Wonder World extension Saturday, connecting Interstate-35 on the east with RR 12 on the west to complete the city’s first complete highway across the city.

The highway, which opened roughly 20 years after its initial conception, cost $26.28 million for construction and $16 million for engineering, land acquisition, environmental assessments, archaeological studies and mitigation since 1999, bringing the total cost of the project to just more than $42 million.

“How many of you have wondered if this day would come?” San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz asked during the opening ceremony Saturday morning. “Well wonder no more,” she added, bringing the hundreds in attendance to applause.

At the stroke 6 p.m. Saturday, Narvaiz waved as passersby flooded the 3.5-mile Wonder World Drive extension. Drivers were greeted with a freshly paved highway bordered by tree-covered hills and natural areas twisting and turning from one country scene to another.

The new highway is San Marcos’ largest transportation project in history. The project was designed to relieve traffic from downtown and historic neighborhoods in the city while also providing easier access to the western reaches of San Marcos from I-35.

Voters green-lighted the road in a 1998 bond election, but the financing wasn’t sufficient to move the project. In 2005, the U.S. Congress allocated $10 million for the project. San Marcos also entered into a pass-through agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which guaranteed the city between $3-6 million dollars per year in reimbursements for a period of 10 to 20 years, based upon traffic volume. The first payment to San Marcos is scheduled for August 2011.

Construction on the Wonder World Drive extension began in November 2008 and was finalized this month.

The dedication ceremony, which began at 10 a.m., included an antique automobile parade escorting city officials to the site where the opening of the highway was to take place before all in attendance.

Narvaiz and the city council, along with city staff, State Rep. Patrick Rose (D-San Marcos), and other dignitaries gladly posed for pictures before ripping open the “road closed” gate, marking Saturday as the birth of the highway.

In her speech, Narvaiz read the definition of the word, “wonder,” which she said stands to describe what the new highway is. She said the highway is “huge” for San Marcos because of its mobility and safety features.

Narvaiz said Western Hays County residents will now enjoy quicker accessibility to Central Texas Medical Center (CTMC) during emergencies, where “every minute counts.” The new parkway route will have only two street lights and no at-grade railroad crossings, a big difference from the former alternative from I-35 to RR 12 that went through 10 stoplights and three railroad crossings.

The new highway is expected to serve more than 16,000 automobiles daily.

The day-long celebration began at 7 a.m. with a 5K run/walk/bike, followed by the 10 a.m. dedication ceremony and a barbecue lunch with live music and dancing.

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28 thoughts on “Wonder World Drive extension opens to fanfare after 20 years

  1. How can one not agree? It’s a valiant, single-handed miracle! “What hath God wrought?” as someone once famously asked.

    The road promises, indeed, to be a great thing for the community as it further matures. Just as it has been for all the people who have fought in the trenches and insisted it would become real and danced with the State and Feds until they could no longer keep passing us by–maybe for good enough reasons–for the past decade and a half. Many of their names were on the placard at the dedication, although not the names of all the citizens and groups that maintained community determination. The project is a symbol of what can happen when a community sets its collective mind to something really big, and keeps the eyes of public officials on the goal. The present Mayor acknowledges this, and has done so publicly. Properly, she said we should all celebrate with/for each other.

    We still need to focus on the power of public will, not point out personalities who carry it out. They really don’t have that much choice. Fortunately, a mid-size community like ours can still do such things. Maybe the reason the State and Nation can’t is that there is too much “grease” available in Austin and DC to be used to cut the friction with the restless public interest. There, all you’ve got to do is ignore the real issues, be nice, and collect the dimes. Here, as a noted brawler once noted, “You can run, but you cannot hide.”

    Tempting to make a wish for our floundering democracy, but just wishing seems so useless, forlorn, and weak…. And besides, “Everybody is just SO busy” with really more important stuff. Not even able to sort out what”s being done “for real.” But there are people who are willing to TELL us….

  2. “Thank you, Mayor Narvaiz, for making this new road a reality!”

    and then,

    “How can one not agree? It’s a valiant, single-handed miracle! “What hath God wrought?” as someone once famously asked. ”

    (snicker)

  3. I wonder if the residents and business owners along Hopkins can see the difference in traffic yet? I drove it a couple times yesterday and it SEEMED less crowded but that could be my imagination.

  4. There were quite a few cars on the extension, but there were also a LOT coming from Wimberley and making a left onto “Old RR12.” Not sure if that means they don’t know where the extension goes, or if it means it doesn’t go where they want to go (downtown, campus, north of town?). I hope they get a light at Old 12 and the extension soon. Turning left onto the extension can be hairy, to say the least.

  5. Looks like a couple of you took the bait! Since Narvaiz gets blamed for everything bad in San Marcos, should she also not get credit for everything good?

  6. Eric: Narvaiz does catch some unfair blame periodically (though a significant portion is earned). As I recall, folks on this site, including those with a distinct pattern of Susan-bashing, have given her credit on things like the Griffols deal and the HEB distribution center expansion. That said, Wonder World Drive is hardly something that she, or any individual Councilmember should get any kind of exclusive credit for. This was a VERY long term project that required a consistent vision across administrations across the better part of two decades. Different elected leaders made different contributions to making the project a reality. She just happened to be mayor when the ribbon was finally cut. In fact, I feel that elected officials from past administrations should have been included in the ribbon-cutting at least as a symbolic jesture of this project being a consistent vision despite varying political beliefs. This has been one of those few issues over the past couple of decades that virtually everyone was able to agree on and reach some kind of consensus. This consensus over a long period of time should be discussed more in news articles as a way to encourage “good behavior” in our elected officials, but attaboys and elected officials singing kumbahyah doesn’t sell in this day & age the way a good controversy will.

  7. True. The bond was passed by the citizens in 1998 (7 million?), and I’m pretty sure Susan didn’t live here then. Mayors Moore, Chiu and Habengriether all worked with staff and various government and non-profit entities to secure ROW and funding for the project. This included the acquisition of 500 acres surrounding the road to mitigate for the taking of endangered species habitat.

  8. Susan actually gave a great speech where she acknowledged the great work put forth by councilmembers past and present. She never once took credit for this project and actually presented a big sign that graciously named all the council and mayors that have contriubuted to the success of the wonder world extension.
    You people make Susan to be this almighty being that supercedes all protest and anyone in her way. Give me a break, she’s but one person in a body made up of 7. Granted some important votes are split 4-3, but you know what, you elected all 7 members of the council. So everybody just shush!

  9. I think Mayor Susan did live here in 1998. I remember she ran against Billy Moore some time around 1998.

  10. By the way, one thing I have noticed, I don’t think I have seen an 18 wheeler go through downtown all day.

  11. Very nice. Does anyone know the status on the Aquarena Springs Drive overpass? That’s been a long time in coming too.

  12. Like I said above…some of you fell for the bait I put out there hook, line, and sinker! Obviously Susan was not alone in getting this road built. It has been talked about since I was a kid.

  13. In a memo dated April 29, 2002 from the Greenspace Committee (an ad hoc committee made up mostly of city staff and a few citizens including myself, with Laura Huffman as Chair, then Jon James when she moved on) to the City Council on the naming of FM 3407 to RR12:

    “The City of San Marcos Greenspace Committee recommends that the City Council designate the new roadway extending from Hunter Road to RR 12 as ‘Purgatory Creek Parkway’ or ‘Purgatory Parkway’. Because this road is an extension of Wonder World Drive, the Committee also recommends that the existing Wonder World Drive be renamed consistent with the name chosen for the new parkway.”

    The idea was to have a more appropriate (serious) name for what would be a major artery in San Marcos for a variety of reasons, including an acknowledgment of how environmentally sensitive the area is that the road bisects.
    Just a little history…

  14. Completely off-topic, but it has always bugged me that this road is called Wonder World Drive when Wonder World is not directly accessible from it and is, in fact, nearly a mile from the road. I’ve long thought that a road called “Wonder World” sounded like a place from a bad 1980s children’s cartoon. Heck, even just the original name of Redwood Road sounds better.

    Also, the divided road and characteristic of bisecting a large regional park are more consistent with the character of a Parkway. But I digress. I guess I’m arguing symantics.

  15. Aha! Got you at last, Mr. Sims! Clovis’s life hobby was trying to get FM110 (the ostensible San Marcos Parkway Loop), which has now more or less blindly cut in two for the “easier” eastern leg–we will see just how easy, given the ancient Camino Real route it is supposed to parallel in part. I led the delegation to the Highway Comission, along with Clovis and a multitude of others (1998). Significantly, thanks to Ms. Bonnie Marshall and another teacher I’m ashamed not to recall, two busloads of SMCISD kids attended, supportive essays in hand to submit. We were on an agenda with Dallas and Houston, who still believe they deserve over 80% of all the available limited funding in the State.

    The kids, now aging, may deserve the most credit when something real finally happens. Clovis’s comment in testimony was that when he first started coming, the guy (Greer) for whom the THC Building was named, was still Chair of the Commission. My own grandiloquence began with, “We are not Dallas or Houston, with their respective herds of legislators who are your bosses, but we ARE a community of persons, too, and we have serious future needs that must be addressed. The sooner, the cheaper and easier.” While the dawdling has continued on all parts, we did get the Commission to approve us a “Minute Order,” which starts the project gears moving, on the spot, and to enter us on the Project Priority List–which is shuffled often, obfuscated nearly as much, bankrupt of appropriations most of the time, and longer than one of those sadomasochistic CGI movies made for and watched by future homicidal maniacs disguised as kids. Glory!

    Time has indeed gone by. The Lege has foiled us again and again. TxDOT keeps stiff-arming us. So far, we have not given up, and can’t afford to sit around or give up. Fortunately, our project was positively affected by a wide alliance with the big “playahs” along the Corridor, as they have pressed for funding, priority, etc. for SH 130 (the “I-35 Corridor Throughway). That project includes moving UPAC’s mastodon migratory path (freight line) out of town at LONG LAST, and acquiring their old right of way via a byzantine “deal,” which would leave the old line for mainly light or local freight and a Commuter Rail to whisk all that north/south passenger traffic and heavy rail to a convenient distance away from the middle of our village. Also, one might note, CARTS and Greyhound teamed up and built our multimodal transfer station on Guadalupe to serve local and commuter traffic.

    The CARTS Station was built quickly, dedicated (2000?), and got into service, since that entity is not a blind elephant and exists solely to serve the public. Oddly, they have been there, as the central hub for affordable local transit. And none of us were held financially hostage! Dave Marsh, the ED and a splendid fellow, began wishing even back then for a hookup with the “Rising Star’s” Transit System, to facilitate movement both of students and locals around town so’s to cut the growing gridlock.

    I think he’s still waiting at the altar, where he was left, although lackadaisical conversation still arises now and then.
    One rationale for our CARTS deal is to help all those new, but often financially strapped, employees GET to all those new minimum-wage jobs. Another was to allow students to move further than two blocks without having to take their cars and choke downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. HELLL-OOOO! Can you hear me now?

    Like other City infrastructure systems, when we start to plan a transportation NETWORK, the whole village has to look at the futureS– short, middle, and long-term scenarios–and at the whole thing from a distance, both in order to maintain some local control and keep it timely, cheap as possible, and effective. Again, we need to “network” for some parts with the County (see McCarty Lane Improvements, elsewhere in SMLN), adjacent counties, the Corridor region (via the Corridor Council), and the State, as well as with UPAC (the Manifest Destiny guys) and the Feds. We don’t drive the bigger pieces, but we can be at the table and both contribute and take advantage. That’s why for years there was a Transportation Advisory Council for the County, and a Jane Hughson, who has been neck-deep in the struggle since the start, until her and the Council’s plug got pulled in favor of just going it on raw genius.

    I say again, all this is killing work, but we have people who are willing to do it instead of watching “Idol” and WWE and shopping, or whatever we do to kill time. Those who give us their time and sweat always have a lot of complicated stuff to learn about the complicated business of moving people most effectively. They have to have not only brains, but passion and commitment for the long haul, which these things always are, and be seriously real about what it all costs us. That’s why we are still in the game, sort of, and why we have been able to get our Congressional reps–Laughlin, Hutchinsons, Pickle, Doggett, Wentworth, Armbrister, Linebarger, etc.–to move the juggernauts and to bring some of our tax money back to us to fund our work.

    Be a jim-dandy to take up with this crowd of candidates who are swooping down on us. As you can see from this unconscionable use of electricity, there are a hell of a lot of good “meet the candidate” questions in here. Better than “What will you do to provide jobs for our town?” maybe even. Real planning questions have teeth, and show clearly whether somebody knows enough. We might start, for example, by asking the “D/R” group why the State has followed Tricky Ricky Perry in setting policy based on localities’ paying for improvements by toll, even if the facilities already exist and the communities are small. Do we really need to “privatize” (i.e., SELL) the whole system to the Masters of the Universe? Does Texas really need to divert the legally dedicated money from gas, license and highway taxes to other things?

    For a good joke to sweeten this, think of Rick”s “Trans-Texas Corridor,” which would have built and tolled NEW interstate expressways all over Texas. Our approach was good enough for him to mimic it! But his died in agony. It would have turned over transportation in Texas to “contractors,” who would have owned us all. So far, ours is actually going on the ground, and approaching the HaysCo segment. Many of us won’t get to see it, but a fair bet says a version of it will get built. And remember, kids, Compulsive Brevity Kills!

    We could thresh a lot of hay quickly with one simple candidate question: “What is the role of San Marcos in the future of the Region, beginning now?”

  16. I live right on Bishop St. in the historic district and work from home so I’ve literally been witness to the amount of traffic along Bishop on any given day. Bishop was a popular shortcut for vehicles coming from Wonderworld Dr. to get to RR12. Although trucks over a certain weight limit are prohibited I would routinely see 18-wheelers and other large trucks cruise up and down my street all day when there are no destinations along Bishop or Craddock for trucks of that size. On Monday, the first business day after the extension opened, Bishop was eerily quiet. There was minimal traffic along it. It reminded me of the kind of light traffic one sees on a holiday. While my estimates are purely guesstimates, I would say the amount of traffic along Bishop has been cut by 60% if not more. There were no heavy trucks all day (I can hear them when they switch gears to climb the hill). Even driving around the downtown district in the middle of the day it seemed like there was significantly less traffic. Needless to say, I’ve been excited for the opening of the WW extension for a long time. I feel like a child playing with a new Christmas toy. Thank you to everyone over the last couple of decades who have made this possible. Now that Bishop is no longer heavily trafficked maybe my property value will increase. 😉

  17. Must be working. Fancy that. The City gets an “A” for doing the Wonderworld extension pretty right. Over a long period of time. Somebody somewhere can surely be pained or, god forbid, inconvenienced by the changes it is and will be causing. May take longer for that to settle in, if things in our idol, Austin’s transportation system woes are any barometer. Being that much bigger multiplies the complexity and cost of their system, and the same scenario is enacted nationwide in big population centers. But so far, not here, in the middle of it all. BRAVO SAN MARCOS! Bravo those intrepid souls who have helped to lay out, develop, and keep our plan out in the lead, so far. And Bravo the gazillion hours and gigantic labors of those who have done the same with the Envision Central Texas Plan, which was deliberately made on the broadest-possible-base and deliberately took much of the future out of the control of the Austin maniacs–the “Manson Helter-Skelter” guys who’d rather plan to make personal money, then let the taxpayers fight over the mess forever. Oh, my lord! I’ve just publicly expressed an opinion! Call 9-1-1!

  18. I’m just relieved it’s not a tollway.

    It’s a nice road, and a testament to the hard work of many. Kudos to all.

    Now for the inevitable here’s-how-it-could-have-been-better comment: I noticed driving past this weekend that there’s no right-hand turn lane onto the extension as you’re heading south on Hunter. It never occurred to me before, but sitting at that stop light, I could immediately see the need for a turn lane there.

    I can only assume this was hashed out during the planning process and rejected for reasons that made sense to planners. Still, there’s plenty of room for it, and I’ll wager at some point, a turn lane will be added there someday. And at considerable taxpayer expense.

    — End of mild rant. —

  19. Tarl, If you are talking about a turn lane on Hunter road to turn left onto the new WW extension, that is in the works. I believe the entire section of Hunter Rd. from that intersection back to Jack’s roadhouse is going to be re-done.

  20. Well yes, but I’m thinking of a right-hand turn lane on Hunter as you’re headed toward New Braunfels. Right now, there’s a left-hand turn lane for cars turning toward I-35, and then one lane to accommodate cars going straight or turning right. Just seemed to me a turn lane there would shorten the overall line of cars waiting on the light by several lengths, especially if people can turn right on red.

    I realize sometimes these public works projects get completed in a “Phase I” state and then are revised later once some changes or upgrades are made to contiguous roadways. Who knows? Maybe they’ll cut an exit-style lane curving through the landscaped entrance area and it will be way better than the sorry little six-car-length turn lane I had in mind.

    Again, it’s a nice road. I got a great look at it Saturday morning as I kept waiting for the finish line to finally appear in that 5K run. 😉

  21. Oops, I meant to turn right. They are going to be re-doing that whole section and I am pretty sure a right turn lane is in the works as well as widening and a better crossing at Purgatory Creek.

  22. Regarding a right-hand turn lane from Hunter onto RR12 (is that the proper title for the extension?), the planners probably assumed that if one was in town, you wouldn’t drive south of town to get onto RR12 when it might be shorter to use Old RR12. Just a guess. But if they are going to be redoing the stretch of Hunter from WW to Jack’s then I imagine there will be some accommodation.

    Anyway, I’m still very happy with the reduction of traffic in the historic district and in the rest of town. It does seem noticeably quieter in other parts of town as well. Especially downtown.

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  24. “Teacher! Teacher! Me, me! I have!” Now I wonder about FM 110. Since SOMEBODY has apparently told CAMPO and many others we didn’t really want it. Besides, why would we want to build a VERY expensive Limited Access Parkway across a VERY sensitive natural area and watershed? May, like the proverbial Chicken, to get to the other side–i.e., east to west across SM? Without having to build a score of other, lesser, still expensive roads through the tangle of future development? Well, that is what they told me 20 years ago, and again 15 years ago, and again 10years ago. Still, 2 years ago?

    Has THAT much changed about our future, already?

    And you really HAVE made a comparison with the engineering and costs and social impacts of an Aquarena Drive rail overpass? Like, REALLY looked? A bunch of us simpletons DID look at that in that very detailed way, at least 15 years ago. We decided it was somewhere between un-doable, too expensive, and downright dumb, when you put all the variables in the mix. But then, that was before “The Rising Star of Texas” decided in its wisdom, that we should compete to host a Bowl Game–the Holy of Holies–whatever it meant the Community should have to give up. Just think–our own, personal slash of urban degradation and slummery, the front door from I-35 to our lil ol’ River Bridge.

  25. Now that all the grandstanding is over, let us remember we spent over $42 million dollars for this 3.5 mile roadway. A roadway that cuts through a large swath of environmentally sensitive parkland. Money that could have been spent on a (longer) loop segment west of I-35 through more appropriate (and less expensive) land further south.

    Planning? We heard City Council members last Tuesday now question the need for a loop segment west of I-35, now that we have the Wonder World Drive Extension in place. I don’t remember anybody in the past saying that extending Wonder World Drive would make a good western loop segment.

    We walked in Prospect Park this morning for the first time since the Extension has been opened. The park will never be the same. We heard a significant amount of road noise on the entire walk. Sigh, I guess we’ll have to “drive further out” to find some nature space to walk in that has more nature quietness.

    For those interested in the math, we (taxpayers) spent “$26.38 million for construction, plus $16 million for engineering, land acquisition, environmental assessments, archaeological studies and mitigation since 1999” (quoted from the Project Details in the Dedication Ceremony handout).

  26. Steve: Elsewhere, on another thread, I posted the rationale “”back then” for the proposed route of FM 110, the San Marcos Parkway Loop. Also the reason for doing the Wonder World extension in the interim. I was there for both, and a heavy participant, along with Clovis Barker, Jane Hughson, the State, The county, and some REAL urban planners. I remarked that we crossed the recharge zone (see Wassenich, D) in that way, expensive and delicate as it was, for the same reason the immortal “chicken” crossed the road– to get to the other side. To take people not headed for SM, among others, out of and around the City, with least impact. And ultimately, not having east/west access on a main artery, to SAVE the even-larger enormous costs of all those developer-preferred smaller roads that SOME favor. Or perhaps, “favor SOME.”

    And bless you and poor Ms. North. That long pre-dated Mr. Morris’s selling us the Prospect Park land–or the land on McCarty, or the natural area above Aquarena (which is now threatened by the upcoming Windermere/Sink Springs Project), and just on and on… like my old hero, Oat Willy: Onward Thru the Fog!

    Thanks anyway.

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