by BRAD ROLLINS
State and county officials have negotiated an agreement to share the cost of $123 million in new and expanded highways, including an eastern loop around San Marcos.
» Letter from Conley, Ingalsbe to TxDOT executive director Phil Wilson [pdf]
The informal deal struck between Texas Department of Transportation executive director Phil Wilson and Hays County Commissioners Will Conley and Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe would commit the county to applying $35 million toward the roadways in unused debt capacity approved by voters nearly five years ago. In exchange, TxDOT would essentially loan the county $48 million to build FM 110 and spend an additional $40 million to construct five projects in and around the Interstate 35 corridor cities of San Marcos, Kyle and Buda.
A gleam in the eye of property owners and planners for at least three decades, the 13¼-mile loop would start at Yarrington Road in northern San Marcos, sweeping eastward around the city’s edge before rejoining Interstate 35 at McCarty Lane where two miles of the loop have already been built or are under construction now.
Other highway projects encompassed in the agreement include:
The terms are outlined in a Dec. 10 letter obtained by the San Marcos Mercury from Ingalsbe and Conley to Wilson. When the Hays County Commissioners Court votes Tuesday on a resolution formally asking the Texas Transportation Commission for approval, Conley and Ingalsbe need only one other vote on the five-member court to secure the deal on this end; passage, therefore, seems likely. Local officials say they think Wilson has committed TxDOT to upholding its end of the bargain, although it is far from papered up.
Completing FM 110 is projected to cost $60 million, about 44 percent less than a $106 million estimate generated in July. The county will put up $7 million to buy right-of-way and $5 million for engineering while the state will front the total cost of construction, about $48 million.
Last week, the San Marcos City Council signed onto a device that would create a Transportation Reinvestment Zone along the roadway’s route. Property tax generated by new development expected to spring up along the loop will be applied to repaying TxDOT for the construction cost. The other $40 million in TxDOT construction — for FM 2001, FM 150, Ranch Road 12 and others — would be direct expenditures from the state, not a loan.
FM 110 has long been sold as safety and mobility priority that would relieve pass-through congestion on Interstate 35 and state highways like Texas 80 and Texas 123. Now Ingalsbe and Conley say the road is critical to economic development for large industrial or commercial employers who want easy access to trade routes when choosing sites for major, regional facilities.
Last week, the court approved $187,000 to pay engineering firm HNTB to rejigger the road’s design to allow for access along its whole route. Under the design drawn up under a different TxDOT regime, businesses would only be able to access the road at major intersections.
“The mission has changed at TxDOT. It used to be all about mobility and safety. Now I think economic development opportunity has been added into that mix,” Ingalsbe said.
Said Conley, “They have a philosophy at TxDOT today that is very pro-economic development. We’re taking advantage of that.”
A longterm transportation master plan, approved last month by the Hays County Commissioners Court, also imagines an extension of FM 110 to Texas 45 in southern Travis County, creating a new regional north-south corridor paralleling the interstate between Kyle/Buda and Niederwald/Uhland. That project is not part of the deal the court will consider tomorrow.
Other elements of the Hays County-TxDOT deal include: