Hover over the black circles on this map for detail about road improvements proposed in the most recent (Dec. 20) draft of the Hays County Transportation Plan. The commissioners court will discuss the plan during a workshop at 11 a.m. Jan. 15 at the Old Hays County Courthouse in San Marcos.
SAN MARCOS MERCURY MERCURY MAP
by BRAD ROLLINS
Officials have scrubbed or scaled-down a number of planned new roads from a draft update of the county’s long-range transportation plan, including a series of new arterials around the Wimberley Valley. A prospective connection between Hilliard Road, outside San Marcos, and Fulton Ranch Road, outside Wimberley, has been designated for emergencies, not everyday use.
Thousands of people live in a wide swath of unincorporated Hays County accessible only by Lime Kiln Road, a two-lane road periodically cut off from San Marcos by the low-water crossing at Sink Creek. In September 2011, a wildfire threatened homes in the area and choked off the only escape route. It was contained quickly, in part, through good fortune; DC-10 and C-130 firefighting aircraft happened to be staged in the region at the time, but usually are not.
The draft Hays County Transportation Plan that circulated in November envisioned a two-lane major arterial connecting the terminus of Hilliard Road with Lost River and Fulton Ranch roads outside Wimberley. An updated draft of the plan, scheduled to be considered by the Hays County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, leaves the road intact but designates it “emergency access only.”
“We decided that it probably didn’t make sense to make this a full-blown connection. A lot of people would be concerned about a connection in that spot that could really change the character of the area,” said Joe Cantalupo, a former Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization director now working as a consultant for Hays County.
Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley, who represents the Wimberley and western San Marcos areas, said he and Pct. 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant always intended the Hilliard-Fulton Ranch Road connection to be used for emergencies only. The road was mistakenly included in the November draft plan as a major arterial roadway with 80-feet of right-of-way because of a “staffing issue,” Conley said.
Conley said his constituents on both sides of the Blanco River oppose a thoroughfare that would increase traffic in their neighborhoods, but want an alternative escape route in event of catastrophe.
“My constituents on Flite Acres Road have enough traffic to deal with. And the people who live on Hilliard and Lime Kiln, they moved back there for a reason. We really tried to the best of our ability to make sure we didn’t have any type of intrusions through existing subdivisions. There are a lot of other options for the county to still have a safe and efficient highway system,” Conley said. “We want to go and talk to those private landowners and hopefully work out an agreement that would give us the ability to use that connection in some type of emergency situation. It is purely a public safety issue. It has nothing to do with connectivity or mobility.”
For more than a century, passers-through could legally use a privately-owned road called Little Arkansas where it crossed the 5,000-plus acre Fulton Ranch, providing a secondary connection between the Hilliard Road area and the Blanco River. When Houston superlawyer John O’Quinn bought the legendary spread in 2001, county leaders approved a controversial swap in which O’Quinn paid $5.3 million to build a new road around the perimeter of his property as an alternative route to Little Arkansas. The road connects to San Marcos on Ranch Road 12 and not Hilliard, however, making the Lime Kiln/Hilliard area, essentially, a cul-de-sac of city-sized dimensions.
Cantalupo said it will be up to the county judge and commissioners to decide what “emergency access only” means in real-world terms.
“I think what the county is saying is, over time, we need to make sure we have an escape route for people who are on the Hilliard end of things,” Cantalupo said. “We were struggling with how to approach this and someone said, ‘Why don’t you just label it as emergency access only.’ And that’s what we did.”
The draft plan also calls for re-opening a Blanco River low-water crossing that connects the terminus of Lime Kiln Road with Cypress Road outside Kyle.
Since public hearings were held around the county in November, four new segments of two-lane major arterial roads in the Wimberley area have also been eliminated from the draft. They include:
Taken together, the roads would have connected a number of meandering, detached country roads to form a partial loop around Wimberley and Woodcreek. Conley said they were included in the fall preliminary draft because they were included in city of Wimberley’s transportation plan. When affected property owners objected, the commissioner said, they were taken out of the current draft.
The proposed roads “would have had a significant impact in changing the lifestyle that my constituents out there currently enjoy. They would have went through existing subdivisions and working ranches. It’s just not appropriate at this time,” Conley said.
Conley said Wimberley elected officials are “comfortable” with the county’s transportation plan omitting major elements of the city’s.
He said, “It was very visionary. In other words, it was way-down-the-road type stuff, kind of ahead of its time. Maybe one day they could certainly be something to potentially look at. It’s just a long ways away. They understand that and agree.”
Two panels appointed by commissioners — a citizens advisory committee and a technical advisory committee — reviewed the most recent draft at meetings Thursday afternoon. Neither group recommended major revisions. The Hays County Commissioners Court is expected to discuss the transportation plan at a workshop on Tuesday and could schedule a vote on adoption as soon as Jan. 22 or Jan. 29.
This is the most recent draft of a rewriting of Hays County’s long-term transportation plan. The labels on the map correspond to a matrix available here [pdf].
CORRECTION: This story originally said 10,255 people live off Lime Kiln and Hilliard Road; the real number is significantly fewer. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 7,234 live in Census Tract 107.01 and 2,991 in Census Tract 107.02. Those tracts encompass the Hilliard Road/Lime Kiln Road areas but also include more densely populated areas, including parts of the San Marcos city limits.