Four pass-through financing projects will begin this summer

Among the four Hays County road projects on track to begin nearly simultaneously within the next few months is the single-longest project the county has undertaken.

The widening of FM 1626 from FM 2770 to just south of Brodie Lane will be completed under two construction contracts managed by Hays County and will include construction of a bridge over Little Bear Creek, the addition of shoulders and sidewalks, and the expansion of the roadway to two lanes in each direction with a dedicated center turn lane.

The 1626 project joins another set of long-discussed projects, the realignment of FM 150 in Kyle and the conversion of I-35 frontage roads in the area from two-way to one-way traffic from FM 1626 to Yarrington Road.

Jeff Watson, engineer for program managers HNTB, said the projects will bring more than just road improvements to the area. "We have four projects coming up this year, which is great. It's a lot of jobs for the community, and that's really a positive thing," he said.

FM 150 realignment

Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe said safety is the main reason behind the desire to realign FM 150, which runs through precincts 1 and 2.

"There has been so much growth and traffic on this roadway, and with a 'dog-leg' intersection, it is a very dangerous intersection," she said in an email.

Currently, drivers who wish to connect to FM 150 on the east side of I-35 must cross over the highway, travel south on the two-way frontage road and turn left back on to FM 150. After the project is completed, FM 150 will be rerouted behind the Dairy Queen.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Mark Jones said the traffic from nearby schools adds to the daily gridlock in the area.

"Around that Dairy Queen intersection and below where 150 East comes into the access road, every day, that traffic backs up," Jones said. "Realigning 150, taking 150 across the bridge and behind Dairy Queen and matching it up where it comes in at PAWS, will be a big improvement to that intersection. It should help mobility quite a bit."

Along the west side of the highway in the same area, Watson said a second project will adjust the road along I-35 to be a true frontage road.

FM 1626 widening

Jones said the widening of FM 1626 has been discussed for nearly a decade, and faced several delays, so residents and motorists may be a bit skeptical.

"They've been waiting on 1626 since '03 and '04, so it's kind of a 'We'll believe it when we see it.' They're not going to get too excited until they see the bulldozers. I don't blame them," he said.

Watson said the widening and reconstruction work will be done under two construction contracts managed by Hays County.

The first project will begin this summer with the construction of a bridge over Little Bear Creek, where there is a low-water crossing. The bridge construction will be followed by the addition of shoulders and sidewalks and the expansion of the roadway to two lanes in each direction with a center turn lane.

The second project, construction and improvements from FM 2770 to FM 967, should begin sometime in late 2013.

"This one's fairly complex because you have so much coordination," he said.

Watson said the FM 1626 work is estimated to take about two years to complete. The level of detail and cooperation required has led the county to create a website devoted to the roadway:

The site features schematics and project details, a schedule and frequently asked questions, and it will include regular updates as construction progresses.

In addition to the physical length of the FM 1626 project, work will involve coordinating with the more than 75 property owners whose driveways connect to the roadway.

"They'll always have access; that's important to understand," Watson said. "No one will be blocked, but just paving a road, you have to pave in front of someone's driveway."

Jones said that as with FM 150, safety was a top reason for the widening and improvements along FM 1626.

"The current road, the traffic is more than it's designed to handle, and there's several sections of the road that have limited visibility, [and] some pretty sharp curves," he said.

San Marcos Loop

The smallest of the upcoming projects will be the construction of the first mile of a five-lane rural roadway, FM 110, also known as the San Marcos Loop.

The loop will eventually connect I-35 to Hwy. 123 on the east side of the city.

The project will tie in to the first part of the loop, which was the work and improvements done by the City of San Marcos at McCarty Lane near the convention center.

Ingalsbe said the loop has been discussed for more than 30 years as a way to route highway traffic away from the city. She said there were several reasons the project finally received funding.

"The City of San Marcos and the county knew this was a roadway that needed to be built to have an alternative to I-35 for mobility and safety," she said. "Also, the city wanted to direct growth off and away from the aquifer. [And] because the Embassy Suites and Conference Center was built on this roadway, we knew at some point, more development would occur in this area."

Pass-through financing

All four projects are being funded through what is known as the Pass-Through Finance Program.

Through the program, the Texas Department of Transportation partners with cities and counties to construct or enhance roads that are under TxDOT's purview but for which the agency does not have the funds.

Other projects previously completed through the program include the expansion of Hwy. 290 and the bridge and frontage road improvements at I-35 and Kyle Crossing.

According to Hays County, in addition to the $207 million in taxpayer-financed road bonds, the projects approved by voters will be funded with about $11 million from the City of Kyle, $7 million from the City of San Marcos and $3 million from federal grants.

Once the projects are complete and traffic data are collected, TxDOT will reimburse the county a portion of the total cost, up to $133.17 million. Reimbursements come quarterly at 14 cents per vehicle mile traveled on each roadway.

Ingalsbe said the total estimated cost for the FM 150 project is $29.6 million, for which the county will be reimbursed about $19.29 million.

Watson said the program offers a way for multiple entities to work together on a common goal.

"The county says, 'OK, we'll build your road for you, and you're going to pay us back X amount of dollars. That way we get our road improved now and then we get paid back,' " Watson said. "It's kind of a creative way to handle a financial crunch."