In light of Williamson County’s population growing 34.1% between the 2010 census and the 2018 population estimate, the Williamson County Commissioners Court is prioritizing regional mobility with a call for a November roads and parks bond election. Nearly $67 million in Round Rock-centric priority projects and more than $74 million in Hutto-area bond projects are on the list.

The Commissioners Court called for the bond election Aug. 5, with a $447 million price tag between two propositions. The first proposition, not to exceed $412 million, will go toward funding road-specific projects, while the remaining $35 million will assist in rehabilitating parks and recreational facilities.

“I think when you look at the tremendous growth and knowing that we’re going to continue to grow by hundreds of thousands of people in the next few decades, you have to continue to improve your infrastructure,” said David Hays, chair of Williamson County’s Citizens Bond Committee. “It takes everyone that lives in the county, but it certainly helps and greatly improves the overall quality of life.”

Out of the recommended priority projects approved by the Commissioners Court for the November ballot, six Round Rock-specific roadway projects and one regional trail were included for consideration, while six Hutto-based road projects  were selected.

Significant projects pertaining to the Round Rock area on the November ballot include the Sam Bass Road corridor, Wyoming Springs Drive  intersection improvements and the CR 112 widening from CR 117 to CR 110.

In and around Hutto, major projects include the SH 130 northbound frontage road from Limmer Loop to Hwy. 79, a Southeast Corridor study from SH 130 to FM 3349 and the CR 134/CR 132 extension.

“The projects on our list that we took to the bond committee, we felt like that you truly could make the case that they’re regional connections that have regional benefits,” Round Rock Transportation Director Gary Hudder said. “And we felt like those regional connections are certainly something that the county should look at and should consider as part of their plan.”

Cost of growth

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization estimates Williamson County’s total population will reach nearly 1 million by 2035. Based on the 2018 population estimate by the United States Census Bureau, Williamson County had 566,719 residents. For perspective, that increase by 2035 would be equivalent to adding five Round Rock-sized cities to the county, according to Williamson County’s long-range transportation plan.

Between the 2010 census and the 2018 population estimates compiled by the United States Census Bureau, Williamson County’s population increased 34.1%. Precinct 4 County Commissioner Russ Boles compares Williamson County’s continuous growth to the population explosion within the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area. He said Austin’s delayed response to combating congestion has created traffic problems the city is still trying to correct today.

From the 2010 census to the 2018 population estimate compiled by the Census Bureau, Travis County’s population has seen a 21.9% increase, with its population expected to continue growing.

“‘If you don’t build the roads, they won’t come’... we’ve seen that’s not the case,” Boles said. “We’ve seen [Austin] come back and fix what should have been done 20 years ago, and it costs five times as much, and it’s half as effective, and we wanted to have a little foresight. It would be naive of us not to plan, and it would be irresponsible for us not to plan.”

Regional connectivity

One of the largest concerns facing the Commissioners Court ahead of the November bond election, county commissioners said, is the question of regional mobility and the county’s heightened commuter status. Nearly 45% of Williamson County’s workforce commutes into Travis County, according to an August 2015 study compiled by The Texas Tribune.

For many residents, I-35 is the standard method of traveling to and from work each day. It also acts as a passageway for drivers traveling through Central Texas, alongside local traffic.

“Almost everyone that’s traveling north or south at some point, they get on I-35 and drive down a few exits or quite a few exits, and then they exit to go someplace else,” Hays said. “So not only is I-35 moving interstate traffic of the people driving through the region, but it’s carrying more of the burden or the weight in local traffic.”

On the ballot

The election marks the first roads and parks bond called by the county since 2013. In the six years since, county commissioners have acknowledged public concerns regarding the safety of county roadways as well as the need for infrastructure improvements on both a city and county level.

“I trust our citizens and acknowledge their concerns, and I want to give them the power to choose the direction of the future of Williamson County,” County Judge Bill Gravell said in an email to Community Impact Newspaper. Robert Daigh, the senior director of infrastructure at Williamson County, added in an email that as the county has remained one of the fastest-growing counties within Texas during the past 20 years, safety and mobility have and continue to be of utmost priority.

The committee recommended roughly $573 million for roads projects and just over $67.5 million for parks, for a combined total of more than $640 million. The bond amount approved by the Commissioners Court for the November ballot is lower than the recommended list.

“We weren’t willing to go to bond for that amount if there wasn’t a need,” Boles said. “To maximize dollars, we partnered with a lot of our stakeholders [...] so if the bond is voted for and it passes, we have partners willing to help us build the roads in their particular area. We thought that was a great chance to help transportation and work as a team with our local stakeholders.”

Some of these local stakeholders, Boles said, included cities such as Round Rock and Hutto that were willing to match funding on selected projects if the bond passes. Geographically, Boles said Precinct 4 encompasses roughly 45% of the county. Boles added he is a firm advocate of the need for roadway improvements.

The Williamson County commissioners formed a citizens bond committee March 5 as a means of determining whether there was a need for a November bond election. The initial number of projects received by the committee for consideration, Hays said, amounted to about $2.7 billion.

“All of our communities, we wanted to make sure we touched,” said Bryon Brochers, a Precinct 4 representative on the committee. “But more importantly, because regionalism is a growing mantra in the area, we wanted to be sure that people could get from one of those communities to the other safely and efficiently.”

The committee held four meetings in one city within each of the county’s precincts—Cedar Park, Taylor, Georgetown and Round Rock—to meet with city leaders and residents and hear their concerns regarding top priority projects. Each city within the four precincts compiled its top three project proposals, which were then decided on by the committee based on need, project timelines and any potential matched funds.

Funding the future

Boles acknowledged the bond fatigue some residents experience, along with the concerns of heightened tax rates and how the debt will be spread out. Under the current proposal set for the November ballot, the county’s property tax rate will not increase above its current rate of $0.1675 per $100 of taxable value.

From engineering and design work to right of way acquisition and construction, Hays said it will be years before these roadway improvements, if approved by voters, come to fruition. But in that same span of time, Hays added, an increased population size and new businesses to the surrounding area will more evenly disperse debt services while also improving the county’s quality of life.

“If you don’t do something, just imagine what I-35 is when you add hundreds of thousands of people into the region,” Hays said. “If you don’t do anything and make that connectivity happen, think about how bad that’s going to be.”

Editor's note: The map represents approximate locations of the proposed road projects and not specific routes.