City to evaluate top transportation needs in 2013
Cedar Park city leaders are working to update the city's transportation master plan, a blueprint for planning roadways and other means of travel. On March 28, City Council will consider hiring an engineer for the plan, which identifies the most-needed road projects.
"This transportation plan has not had a comprehensive update since 2002, and many or most of the projects that are in that plan are completed," said Sam Roberts, assistant city manager. "We have a pretty good idea of most of the projects that are going to be on the list, but I don't doubt there will be some additional projects that come out of the update process."
The city has already identified 17 projects it intends to pursue in the coming years. Those projects will be combined with any that arise from the engineering firm's research as well as input from City Council and the community. City staff and consultants will then evaluate and prioritize each transportation project based on several criteria including mobility, economic development and emergency access.
"Typically, we choose the experts from each department in the city to deal with that specific matter. We provide them with maps and educate them about the projects we already have, and then they sit down with their staff and they rank them," Roberts said. "For environmental [concerns], we will use an outside consultant that does environmental consulting work for us who will give us advice on the environmental constraints. We also have some right of way appraisers that we get input from on the acquisition difficulties. So it's a combination of in-house expertise and outside consultants."
Within six months, Roberts said he intends to have a firm, prioritized list of roadway projects.
"Just because you have a matrix that ranks these projects based on all of these criteria doesn't mean you necessarily build them in that order," Roberts said. "It provides a starting point or the guideline to do an in-depth financial analysis over the feasibility or funding of a project. It really boils down to two things: How badly is it needed, and can we afford it?"
Finding the funds
Traditionally, the city has funded road construction independently in collaboration with Williamson County or through grants, said Josh Selleck, Cedar Park's other assistant city manager. The city also has about $24 million left from the 2007 bond election intended for upcoming transportation projects.
"All of those funding methodologies are still available," Selleck said. "Obviously, any of those partnerships would have to be decided in the future."
Joint city-county funding for roadways has been common in recent years. Both entities approved a $5 million interlocal agreement in November for road improvement projects, including work at the Lakeline Boulevard and Cypress Creek Road intersection.
Since February, Commissioners Court has discussed the possibility of a bond election in November, which could help fund some of Cedar Park's master-planned roads. Voters approved the last county bond election in 2006 for $250 million.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long said the county will appoint a citizens task force to determine a number of factors, including the need for a bond election, the amount, what projects to include and whether those projects should be funded by the county or in conjunction with municipalities.
"In addition to seeking input from the citizens task force, we are also seeking input from the cities, as was done in 2006, regarding their priorities," she said.
Importance of mobility
Some road projects could also be funded by the appreciation of taxable properties in Cedar Park, Selleck said, and the addition of new taxable value.
"Projects that come up will be supported by growth of the tax base, build-out of the commercial corridor or other funding mechanisms," he said.
However, growth is why Cedar Park needs new and refreshed road options, Roberts said.
"Based on traffic counts we have on [US] 183, approximately two-thirds of the traffic on old [US] 183 is traffic not originating in Cedar Park, i.e. Leander, Liberty Hill and points [farther] north. That's significant. It's a very big number," he said.
Alleviating traffic congestion on US 183 is important to improving mobility, he said.
"With that kind of cut-through traffic, it makes it challenging to implement a redevelopment plan on old [US] 183," he said. "I think if we could somehow find a way to calm traffic on [US] 183, this would help with our efforts to redeveloping that corridor."
Residents can contribute to the transportation master plan by contacting city staff or a member of City Council, Roberts said.