Williamson County mulls bond election for roads, parks

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Ahead of a possible roads and parks bond election in Williamson County, Cedar Park and Leander submitted priority projects to be considered for inclusion in the bond.

Voters across Williamson County could vote in November whether to fund transportation projects, park developments and trail connectivity projects with bond money if Williamson County commissioners decide to hold a bond election.

Counties and other jurisdictions such as school districts issue voter-approved bonds to pay for projects by garnering debt. According to the Texas Comptroller’s Office, in August 2017, Williamson County had approximately $872.28 million in tax-supported debt, which is generally voter-approved and backed by residential property taxes.

In March, Williamson County Commissioners Court appointed nine members to a new citizens bond committee. The committee is reviewing whether bond funds are needed for county roads and parks, and if so, for which projects. The committee asked cities in the county to provide their top transportation projects and any regional trail connectivity projects they want the county to consider.

The committee is tasked with reporting back to Commissioners Court with specific requests by July 4.

Creating the bond committee

Several of the nine committee members are from the Leander and Cedar Park area: Mitch Fuller, former Cedar Park City Council member and senior vice commander of the Leander Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10427; Joe Bob Ellison, pastor at Hill Country Bible Church Leander; and Matt Powell, principal of Powell Municipal and former mayor of Cedar Park.

“My personal goal is just to advocate for the cities of Liberty Hill, Leander and Cedar Park and North Austin [and]get done what we need to get done to connect us regionally with the rest of the cities,” Ellison said.

Cynthia Long—Williamson County commissioner for Precinct 2, which represents Cedar Park, Leander, Liberty Hill and parts of Austin—said she picked Powell and Ellison as representatives for her precinct based on their understanding of the area and transportation issues.

“I looked for people who had a big-picture perspective,” Long said.

Powell said the committee is very early in the process.

“The nice thing about a committee like this is you’ve got people that live all over the county, that work all over the county, that can contribute a lot of their personal and professional knowledge of the county and the way it’s growing,” Powell said. “Hopefully the end result will be a bond package that is presented to the Commissioners Court that is comprehensive and really anticipates the needs both today and in the future of the county for both transportation and recreation.”

Submitting bond projects

The city of Leander voted unanimously to submit projects for consideration during a meeting April 5. The projects include expanding parts of Bagdad Road and San Gabriel Parkway and purchasing right of way for Hero Way from Toll 183A to the eastern city limits. The projects also included trail connections along the San Gabriel River Trail and Brushy Creek Trail.

The city proposed that the county bond cover half of the costs for most of the projects, except for the right of way acquisition for Hero Way, which it requested the county cover completely.

In Cedar Park, council members decided what projects they wanted to add to the bond at a meeting April 11. The projects include widening Whitestone Boulevard, extending Toro Grande Boulevard, widening Brushy Creek Road and extending the Brushy Creek Regional Trail. The city recommended the county pay for half of the cost of each project.

Powell told both councils during their meeting that the committee plans to prioritize regionally significant projects, or areas where many people in the county tend to congregate and projects that help people get to and from other cities.

“Generally, cities are going to seek additional funding for roadways that have regional significance,” Powell told Community Impact Newspaper.

Powell referenced the Texas Department of Transportation’s definition for regionally significant projects.

According to TxDOT, a regionally significant project is one that serves regional transportation needs, such as “access to and from the area outside of the region, major activity centers in the region, major planned developments such as new retail malls, sports complexes, etc., or regional transportation terminals…”

“I’m a dad, and … yes, I want to move people around efficiently, but I’m also going to be looking personally at safety improvements [while reviewing projects on the committee],” Powell said. “If a road is built or expanded and allows people to move more safely around the county, I think that’s really important.”

The cities of Cedar Park and Leander submitted the projects in the below map for consideration. All locations are approximate. You can learn about all projects under consideration in Precinct 2 by clicking here.

Regional improvements

At a March Williamson County Commissioners Court meeting, Robert Daigh, the county’s senior director of infrastructure, informed the court of the county’s transportation plan, which lays out where the county intends for roads to be placed when the county is at full build-out.

The county currently has 600,000 residents and is expected to reach 1.4 million by 2045, Daigh said.

Daigh said by planning ahead for future roads the county will save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars and time by not having to purchase expensive right of way in the future.

Randy Bell, senior director of parks and recreation for Williamson County, told Community Impact Newspaper there are three categories of need among county parks and recreation.

The first is a need to acquire more parkland as development continues.

“God is not making any more land in Williamson County,” Bell said.

The second is a need for trail connections, aligning with Williamson County’s 2018 parks master plan, which includes a concept plan for a regional trail system countywide. Cities in Williamson County are considering various trail projects that could be facilitated with the potential bond.

Lastly, Bell said improvements to existing county-run parks, such as Champion Park or Southwest Regional Park, could be funded through the bond. Those improvements could include new overnight facilities, screen shelters, visitor centers, interpretive centers, event spaces and more.

Next steps

Since forming in March, the citizens bond committee has met three times, including a public meeting May 8 at the Cedar Park Recreation Center.

At the meeting, the committee considered projects submitted in Precinct 2, along with cost estimates from the cities and HNTB, an engineering consultant for the county, which often disagreed with city estimates. HNTB estimated a total cost of $779.32 million for all the recommended road projects with the cities putting up $27.96 million toward the costs, bringing the total amount for the bond committee to consider to $751.36 million.

The committee is scheduled to meet four more times this spring at locations between Round Rock and Georgetown. Ellison said attending the meetings are one way the public can get involved in the process.

Over the next several months, the committee will work on creating a recommendation for the Williamson County Commissioners Court, including whether bond funds—and how much—are needed for transportation and recreation projects in the county.

Ellison said committee members will compile proposal information provided by cities and look at the county’s master road and trail plans to see how the projects fit into those plans. He said they will also consider how much money the cities bring to the table to help the county pay for the potential bond projects.

Powell said the committee will also consider the growth of the county when selecting projects.

“Something that’s important to factor in is not only where the current population is, but where it will be in the future,” Powell said. “In terms of the road projects, Williamson County really has a leg up. They’ve done a very ambitious future transportation plan … that will be a significant tool for us, and it really puts this committee at an advantage, in my opinion.”

By July 4, the committee will have a proposal. If the Commissioners Court decides to go through with holding a bond election, the next step would then be up to the voters.

Reporting contributed by Ali Linan and Elizabeth Ucles

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Abby Bora
Abby Bora started at Community Impact Newspaper in May 2017. After working as a reporter, she became editor of the Cedar Park-Leander edition in October 2018. She covers Leander ISD and city government. Bora graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. with a bachelor’s degree in media and communications studies.
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