Eighty percent of Texas voters approved Prop. 1 on Nov. 4. This approval diverts a portion of oil and gas tax revenue from the Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, to the State Highway Fund. Revenue will help bridge a $5 billion annual shortfall. In the first year $1.74 billion will go to the Texas Department of Transportation for four purposes: congestion relief, connectivity, maintenance, and repair of energy sector roads damaged by vehicles used in development and production of energy.
In October the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Central Texas regional transportation planning agency, threw its support behind TxDOT using the majority of the 2015 Prop. 1 funding for I-35. CAMPO is also providing $33.1 million to use toward these projects, bringing the Austin district’s total allotment to more than $150 million.
Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who sits on CAMPO’s policy board, said it is clear TxDOT understands how important addressing I-35 congestion between Georgetown and San Marcos is, but the agency’s needs are far greater than its resources.
“Funding is a problem,” he said. “Thank goodness people in the state passed Prop 1. The unfortunate thing is I-35 is just one piece of what really needs to be improved in our area.”
Individually the projects on I-35 set to receive Prop. 1 funding will have a local effect on aiding congestion. Overall, Terry McCoy, TxDOT deputy district engineer for Austin, said the projects contribute to the agency’s focus on the highway.
“As you start to build that string of pearls, start putting projects together cumulatively, you’re able to do a lot of good,” he said.
In Travis County, I-35 intersection improvements at William Cannon Drive and Stassney Lane will involve reversing ramps so drivers have more time to safely merge on and off the main lanes. The project also involves widening the frontage roads and reconstructing both bridges.
TxDOT did not have as many I-35 projects queued in its pipeline in Hays County, but it will complete five ramp reversals in Hays between FM 150 and the Blanco River.
“This is a project we can move fairly quickly on, which is important,” McCoy said. “It allows us to put money in Hays County so we get money into each of the three counties we have I-35 in.”
In identifying projects for the first round of Prop. 1 funding, McCoy said it was important that projects could be bid for construction in 2015. This means construction likely will begin by spring and summer 2016.
Will Conley, Hays County commissioner and CAMPO policy board chairman, said the Hays County I-35 project will not only boost mobility and safety but also open economic development opportunities.
“We’re hoping to work with the [Austin] district and administration to show our state legislators we’re handling these new funds in a responsible way for the benefit of the citizens of Texas and that [Prop. 1’s] success leads to future dollars to improve infrastructure,” he said.