by BRAD ROLLINS
NEAR FISCHER — With thousands of rural Hays County residents isolated from emergency service providers, officials are investigating options for using flatbed railroad cars to build a temporary Fischer Store Road crossing at the Blanco River.
The Memorial Day weekend flood damaged or destroyed more than a dozen bridges and low-water crossings stretching from west of Wimberley to east of San Marcos. But the Fischer Store Road bridge, built in the 1990s to weather a 100-year flood, is the single most significant and costly structure to be washed away by the raging river.
Under an agreement approved by the Hays County Commissioners Court on June 2, the Texas Department of Transportation will design and construct a permanent replacement bridge at an estimated cost of $2,950,000.
“We have an ambitious goal of having a permanent bridge open in a year. However, that is ambitious and it’s still a considerable amount of time for the thousands of people that live in the far southwestern portion of the county that have now been cut off from 90 percent of the rest of Hays County,” Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley told the commissioners court on Tuesday.
A toppled Fischer Store Road bridge, combined with washed out low-water crossings on Valley View Road and Haschke Lane, force first responders stationed in Wimberley to take a circuitous route via Ranch Road 32 into Comal County, Conley said. Residents affected by the bridge outages in that area are served by Wimberley EMS, the Wimberley Fire Department and the Hays County Sheriff’s Office’s Wimberley substation.
“These folks are a long ways from anybody at this point in time. I think it’s worth our time and effort to look at a temporary bridge … to try to get mobility and connectivity back to this area of the county,” Conley said. County Judge Bert Cobb added that severed roadways also divert business from Wimberley where the affected residents typically shop.
The court voted to pay Chantilly, Va.-based Bowman Consulting Group as much as $20,000 to design a temporary crossing using moveable, reusable railroad cars.
“One advantage of this — besides being very cost-effective — is when a bridge like this does wash away, these rail cars can be picked up and set back on top of the abutments. …After it’s done being used for this purpose, it can be disassembled and either sold off as an asset or taken in inventory,” said Bowman Consulting vice president Tracy Bratton, who manages the group’s Austin office.
When design is completed, the county will put construction of the crossing out to bid through either a request for proposals or an invitation to bid, said Mark Kennedy, the county’s general counsel. As part of the procurement process, firms can propose a different solution than the railcar plan identified so far as the best option, Kennedy said.
Floodwaters damaged or destroyed more than $10.9 million in roads, bridges and culverts, according to the disaster summary outline submitted by Hays County emergency management coordinator Kharley Smith to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Replacing or repairing bridges, low-water crossings and culverts will cost an estimated $5,930,000; fixing county roads is projected to cost an additional $5,009,785.
About 2,200 homes were isolated from the nearest town or city due to road closures related to the flood, according to Smith’s disaster summary.
Reconstruction of the Valley View Road low-water crossing was scheduled to begin today, said Jerry Borcherding, the county’s transportation department director. The estimated cost of that repair was not immediately available.
As part of the deal under which TxDOT agreed to pay for the Fischer Store Road bridge, Hays County agreed to allocate $300,000 to replace culverts and pipes at creek crossings on Long Creek and Pauls Valley roads near Dripping Springs; on Mount Sharp Road near Wimberley; and on York Creek Road near San Marcos.
Replacing flood-damaged infrastructure and cleaning up debris will cost more than $34.3 million, according to the latest estimates compiled by the Hays County Emergency Management office. Here’s a look at the price tag for transportation facilities in Wimberley, San Marcos and unincorporated areas of the county.
|Washed out culverts||$1,200,000|
GRAND TOTAL: $10,939,785
SOURCE: Hays County Disaster Summary Outline for FEMA
COVER: The Fischer Store Road bridge in southwestern Hays County is one of dozens of bridges and low-water crossings destroyed or damaged by the Memorial Day weekend flood along the Blanco River. With completion of a new bridge at least a year off, optimistically, officials has hired an engineering firm to design an intermediate solution. PHOTO by JON THOMPSONEmail | Print