Georgetown and Williamson County officials say a proposed Hwy. 29 bypass roughly 3 miles in length in southeast Georgetown could help relieve traffic through the city’s downtown and improve east-west vehicle travel through the county.
Although construction of a new roadway in the area is still years in the making, the county is in the midst of an 18-month study—called the Corridor C study—to determine the best route for a future roadway that would begin at the intersection of Sam Houston Avenue and Patriot Way in Georgetown and extend east of SH 130 to Hwy. 29 near CR 120.
Corridor C is one aspect of a long-range transportation plan that has the county studying five corridors with major thoroughfares. Williamson County has set aside $18 million to cover the costs of the planning studies.
“(The Corridor C project) will lessen the impact of pass-through traffic that would come through the center of town and offer greater mobility to people in the community and also people who are passing through without impacting the inner parts of the community,” Georgetown General Manager of Utilities Jim Briggs said.
Along with improving traffic flow, Georgetown officials also see the proposal as a way to increase accessibility to the growing southeast corner of town.
An east-west connection
While many road projects underway in Williamson County and Georgetown are designed to accommodate the area’s recent population growth, Briggs said city and county officials have had the Corridor C project on their radar since at least 2002.
Williamson County Commissioner Valerie Covey, whose precinct covers Georgetown and most of the central county areas, said easing freight traffic that moves through downtown Georgetown has been a goal for the city and county for years.
“It would be bad enough with all the traffic we get,” Covey said. “But (Hwy. 29) is an oversized truck traffic route, so we get the big trucks that carry the wind turbines to West Texas and oil rig equipment from East (Texas) to West Texas.”
With Hwy. 29 bordering a number of historic homes and businesses as well as Southwestern University in Georgetown, widening the existing roadway to accommodate more traffic would be too disruptive, Covey said.
Briggs said a new Corridor C roadway could offer a solution to allow for more pass-through transportation capacity without affecting businesses and residents along Hwy. 29 in Georgetown. While the roadway would serve the growth happening in southeast Georgetown, the city needs the additional transportation capacity to prevent too much traffic on Hwy. 29 through town, he said.
In the future a road in Corridor C could work in tandem with the Southwest Bypass, now under construction west of I-35, to provide an east-west vehicle travel route through Georgetown that would divert traffic south of the city center.
“If you look at (Hwy. 29) it’s really your best option to get a lot of traffic (volume),” Covey said. “That’s not just internal traffic for Williamson County as we build out and add cars; it’s the pass-through traffic from east and west to come through our county. So, I think that’s why it’s key we address that.”
Corridor C options
While the Corridor C study is not expected to be completed until the end of 2018, Covey said engineers will have a more complete idea of the proposed roadway’s future route in May. Engineers have been narrowing down options from 11 possible routes identified through the study, which began in spring 2018, with input from nearby landowners and county residents.
The final proposed route will likely combine elements of two final concepts that run through the center of the Corridor C study boundaries, said. Covey, who is in the midst of meeting with landowners with a stake in the development.
She called developing the land in Corridor C, which is largely being used for agriculture, a “luxury,” as opposed to trying to build a road connection in an area that has already been built out with homes and businesses.
“My job is to plan to work ahead and try to work out these scenarios before our back is against the wall and we get to an Austin scenario, when you won’t widen those roads because you don’t have the money or political willpower because of the business and roads there,” Covey said.
East View High School is just northwest of Corridor C, and Georgetown ISD owns additional land within the Corridor C study. Melinda Brasher, the district’s director of communications, said GISD is keeping in communication with Williamson County regarding the planning study as it moves forward.
Covey said the completed study will be used to develop proposed cost and financing options for the future
With the Texas Department of Transportation having oversight of Hwy. 29 and SH 130, the agency will be involved in reviewing the county’s proposed route for the roadway as plans move forward, according to spokesperson Diann Hodges.
Financing the project
Most of the funding for county road projects come from money voters have approved through bond elections, Covey said. However, the five county corridor development studies are funded without using debt bonds.
About $8 million from the county’s fiscal year 2016-17 budget and about $10 million from the FY 2017-18 budget was set aside to finance the studies. The $18 million will not be enough to go toward construction of the five projects, but it is a start, Covey said.
“To do [the planning for]these projects and be able to set aside the right of ways, I’m a proponent of using the money we will have already. That’s what I fought for, and that’s what we decided as a court,” Covey said. “From my perspective, the county’s goal in this long-range transportation plan is to get the right of ways, set it aside, get the planning, and set it aside for the expansion one day. For if that will be done now or later will be entirely up to the priorities of [which project]to finance.”
In regard to the Corridor C study, Covey said she thinks a two-lane road extension should be built sooner rather than later.
“Without it being built, the Southwest Bypass concept does not work,” she said. “This is one of the projects that we need to get not only the planning and studying done and secure the right of way; we need to build two lanes. We need to get that done now.”