"Typically with [construction of] a state highway you have to have a certain number of public meetings and notices and things of that nature," Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley said. "We're going well above and beyond that, bringing in the community to try to come up with a plan that is generated from the bottom up."
The county is in the early stages of two studies examining FM 150. The first seeks to potentially realign FM 150 at Arroyo Ranch Road away from downtown Kyle to I-35. The second project will use community input to determine how the western portion of the road—from Arroyo Ranch to RR 12 in Dripping Springs—should look. Potential changes to that portion of the road include additional vehicle and bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and aesthetic features.
FM 150 is a two-lane county road connecting RR 12 in Dripping Springs with I-35 in Kyle. The road winds through the undeveloped areas between Kyle and Dripping Springs, crosses Onion Creek, takes sharp turns and passes cultural landmarks.
FM 150 alignment
The county is considering four options for the portion of FM 150 east of Arroyo Ranch including widening the existing road; rerouting the road so it passes between Jack C. Hays High School and Barton Middle School on FM 2770; and two routes that would take the road south of downtown Kyle near the Blanco River to connect at Yarrington Road and I-35.
"The whole point of that study is to keep people traveling through Kyle safe, to keep their travel efficient and to give part of downtown Kyle back to Kyle," Project Engineer Joe Cantalupo said.
The road's current layout through downtown Kyle—one lane of traffic in either direction—often leads to congestion during peak traffic hours. The county's Option B, which would widen the road on its existing alignment through downtown, would almost certainly require the elimination or reduction of parking spaces along much of the street downtown, Cantalupo said.
Kyle Mayor Todd Webster said he favors Option A, which would connect the road to Kohler's Crossing between the two schools. Webster said that route would affect the fewest property owners and would involve the least amount of new road construction.
The amount of traffic the connection would bring to Kohler's Crossing would help spur economic development, too, he said.
"That is going to be our big commercial sector if we can make it that way," Webster said. "[The FM 150 connection with Kohler's Crossing] would improve the value of the property and the economic development potential of everything along Kohler's if it was connected straight through."
Kyle's 2005 Transportation Master Plan called for the creation of a loop encircling the city. The western portion of the loop would follow a path similar to options C and D, which would connect FM 150 with I-35 at Yarrington Road.
Cantalupo and Webster said they do not believe Option A, the Kohler's Crossing connection, is mutually exclusive from options C and D.
"I think what we're beginning to conclude is [the connection from FM 150 to I-35] is not going to substitute that southern link [at Yarrington and I-35]," Cantalupo said. "It's an 'in addition to' rather than an 'either/or.'"
Depending on the route taken, local businesses and residences could see consequences. Tim Miller has operated Millberg Farm, an organic farm in south Kyle, for 23 years. Option C runs about 900 feet from Miller's property. Exhaust from vehicles traveling on the roadway could cause Miller's farm to lose its organic status, he said.
"This is not a tiny little road," Miller said. "They're calling this FM 150, but no, this is a highway. It is 'State Highway 150.'"
FM 150 Character Plan
For the portion of FM 150 west of Arroyo Ranch Road, the county is hoping to create a transportation corridor that maintains the scenic views and natural features of the 17.5-mile-long road while also preparing for future growth.
"We want to develop a future roadway that accommodates a multifaceted prospect of transportation, from hike and bike to pedestrians to obviously vehicular traffic, that's safer and faster but at the same time aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sound," Conley said.
Aside from a few neighborhoods, most of FM 150 between Kyle and Dripping Springs is undeveloped, but according to the Texas Department of Transportation's traffic projections, development is coming.
According to TxDOT estimates, the road's traffic could increase by as much as 50 percent between 2010 and 2030. Additionally, Hays County's population is expected to increase from about 157,000 in 2010 to 628,000 by 2040, according to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the group in charge of coordinating transportation projects in Central Texas.
Conley said FM 150, as opposed to RR 12, is the county's best bet for ensuring east-west mobility in the future.
"We have basically two major roadways connecting the west and northwest to the I-35 corridor in Hays County," Conley said. "RR 12 is really limited through geography and topography, particularly when you get into the Wimberley Valley."
James Andrus, a western Hays County resident, attended an open house on the FM 150 Character Plan in October because he was curious how the project might affect his family's 140-acre property on FM 150.
"Eventually FM 150 is going to have to be improved as we grow," Andrus said. "To me it will eventually be a four-lane road. The amount of subdivisions that are along there is going to continue to grow. We get offers [from developers] daily on our property."
Precinct 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant said it is important to get started on the project before development begins to dictate what the road will look like.
"The opportunity is there to meet that challenge [of growth] with something that is safe, usable and maintains the context of the area," he said. "There are larger tracts of land [on FM 150 than RR 12], but if we don't do something quickly that's going to change."
No funding has been identified for the project, and the improvements are expected to be phased in throughout 10 to 20 years.
"We want to make this a signature project of Hays County," Conley said. "We realize that this is a unique roadway—a special project going through a bunch of special areas in our county."