County voters faced with $447M roads and parks bond package

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Williamson County voters will decide in November if the county will move forward with a $447 million roads and parks bond package, the largest the county has called in the last 20 years, according to county data.

The Williamson County commissioners called the bond Aug. 6, splitting it into two propositions—$412 million for roads and $35 million for parks and recreation. Of that, about $98.4 million will be used for road projects in Precinct 3, which includes Georgetown.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey identified three priority road and three priority safety projects that, if the bond passes, will be completed over the next five to years.

Those roads projects include extending the Southeast Inner Loop from Sam Houston Avenue to Hwy. 29, Southwest Bypass extension from Hwy. 29 to Wolf Ranch Parkway and expanding CR 245 from two lanes to four lanes. Safety projects—labeled Sun City safety projects—will include intersection improvements at Ronald Reagan and Silver Spur; Ronald Reagan and Sun City; and Ronald Reagan and Hwy. 29.

The bond also looks to extend a trail to Lake Georgetown and improvements to Berry Springs Park and Preserve.

These projects have been listed as part of the official ballot language and, if passed, will be completed with bond funding. Additional projects may also be completed if funding allows, Covey said.

“Not everyone is excited about a road project coming through their property and I understand that but looking at it regionally, we need roads to connect to each other to get people around,” Covey said, adding that one only has to look at Austin’s traffic issues to see how lack of infrastructure planning can lead to congestion.

Bonds allow the county to complete major capital improvement projects that wouldn’t be able to be completed otherwise, Senior Director of Infrastructure Bob Daigh said.

The road and bridge tax rate generally only covers maintenance and operation for existing roadways, which is why the issuance of bonds is needed to construct roadways, Daigh said.

County officials estimate the passage of the two bond propositions will not result in an increase in the county’s debt service tax rate of $0.1675 per $100 valuation.

“Safety and mobility are a primary  responsibility of the county,” Daigh said in an email. “Williamson County has been one of the fastest-growing counties in the state for the past two decades and is projected to be in the future.”

The Worship Place, located at 375 CR 245 in Georgetown, is one of the businesses that will be affected by the CR 245 lane expansion if the bond were to pass.

Karen Quillen, services and event coordinator for The Worship Place, said that while in the short term, the road project may delay travel for those getting to and from their parish, she sees the long-term benefits.

“In the long term, having four lanes would, of course, benefit us when we have big events,” Quillen said. “It increases accessibility to our property, which would be a good thing for our members and our guests.”

Following the plan

Covey said she sees calling a bond election as following the county’s Long-Range Transportation Plan, which maps out road locations when the county is at full build-out.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization projects Williamson County’s population will reach just under a million people by 2030. Georgetown has been in the top ten for fastest-growing in the state over the past several years, ranking seventh between July 2017 and July 2018, with at least 50,000 residents according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Covey said she believes this approach to transportation will only work if the county continues to implement its plan.

“It’s so important to plan, and a lot of times, implementation is the hard part,” Covey said.

Covey added that she and her fellow court members are working in a “strategic fashion” to identify infrastructure needs and accomplish them ahead of unavoidable growth.

“I continue to listen to the constituents, and they are telling me to help with traffic that they are seeing only worsen,” Covey said. “I believe the best way to do that is to plan and implement that plan and provide options, and that’s what we [will]continue to do.”

In March, the commissioners appointed nine individuals to the citizens bond committee. The committee was responsible for reviewing and analyzing the infrastructure needs of the county to determine if it should consider calling a bond election.

The committee took feedback from the city, municipal utility districts, school districts and residents before narrowing down $2.7 billion in requests to a recommended $640.9 million.  The commissioners then narrowed that list further to the final $447 million total.

County Judge Bill Gravell said the county’s continued growth has played a big role in the decision to move forward with a bond package.

“As the population grows, the number of people on the road will increase, and potentially [so will]traffic accidents,” Gravell said in an email. “Public safety is important, and getting those who can help to those who need help as quickly and as safely as possible is a big concern.”

Previous bonds

This is the fourth road bond election the county has called since 2000. It also called one in 2006 for $228 million in road projects and one in 2013 for $275 million in road projects. The 2000 bond was for $375 million in road projects.

As a result of those bonds, 165 projects have been completed, and 551 lane miles and 301 new capacity lane miles have been added, county officials said.

Williamson County’s 2013 bond passed with 64% approval. From that bond, at least 17 projects were completed or are in the works to be completed in Precinct 3, according to county data.

“Our goal with our transportation plan is to enhance quality of life by allowing people to move more efficiently across Williamson County so they can spend more time enjoy[ing]their life outside their car,” Gravell said in an email.

Taylor Girtman and Kelsey Thompson contributed to this report.

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Ali Linan
Ali Linan began covering Georgetown for Community Impact Newspaper in 2018. Her reporting focuses on education and Williamson County. Ali hails from El Paso and graduated from Syracuse University in 2017.
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