by WES FERGUSON
The long-awaited widening of FM 1626, a busy thoroughfare between Buda and Austin, is one of two major road projects set to begin this summer in Kyle and Buda.
The FM 1626 improvements will make the drive to Austin much safer for thousands of Buda commuters, according to Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Mark Jones, who had made the project his No. 1 priority when campaigning for office in November 2011.
“It has so much traffic on that road now, it’s just not a safe road to be on,” he said. “It’s the way most people in the northwest part of Buda and Hays County get to Austin, but when it was designed and built it was never intended for that much traffic.”
Construction will transform seven miles of narrow two-lane farm road, from FM 967 to Brodie Lane, into a four- and five-lane highway with a continuous left turn lane, extra wide shoulders for bicycle traffic and a separated hike-and-bike trail or sidewalk for a portion of the length.
A second project set to begin this summer will have major implications for Kyle drivers. In late June or early July, Jones said, the county will start work to reroute a short stretch of FM 150 just east of downtown Kyle. Instead of doglegging along the I-35 access road, FM 150 will loop behind the Dairy Queen and meet Center Street at the I-35 overpass.
Rerouting FM 150 will allow for the realignment of dangerous I-35 access roads from two-way to one-way traffic in Kyle, he said, a project that is also slated to begin this summer.
“It’s about time,” Jones said. “People have been waiting for these improvements for a while.”
Many Kyle residents have also been waiting for the reopening of Dacy Lane, which has been closed for construction since December 2010. All but the most southerly part of Dacy, from Seton Parkway to Goforth Road, has reopened.
“It’s taken longer to get that last little section done than the biggest part of it,” Jones said. “Weather slowed us down or we would have been through. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks it should be done.”
The FM 1626 project has been slowed by nine years of planning and a protracted environmental review by the Federal Highway Administration. Construction is set to begin in early June, and Hays County has set up a website, improve1626.com, to provide construction updates and a live camera feed so impatient commuters can keep tabs on the progress.
Hays County officials estimate the construction will conclude about two years from now.
“This project is long overdue,” Jones said. “I can understand people saying ‘We’re not gonna believe it till we see bulldozers.’ But hopefully we’ll see bulldozers out there shortly.”
The project is being developed by Hays County in cooperation with the Texas Department of Transportation as part of a pass-through financing arrangement, which means the county will front the money for the project and be reimbursed over time by cash-strapped TxDOT. The county is responsible for acquiring right-of-way and relocating utilities.
Hays County voters approved selling more than $83 million in bonds for the project in 2008 but Jones said he expects the final pricetag to be considerably less due to depressed construction prices.
WES FERGUSON is editor of the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.