The Hwy. 195 expansion project that will widen the two-lane highway to a four-lane divided highway received its final environmental clearance from the Federal Highway Administration after a biological opinion was issued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife in December.
"We have reached a milestone on that project from an environmental standpoint," Williamson County Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey said. "We're not through yet, we're not ready to break ground yet, but we've passed a big hurdle."
The project has been planned for several years but was held up by a lack of funding and an extensive environmental review process, Covey said.
"That's why this biological opinion is so important [so we can get] this done," she said. "We are able to move forward."
The first segment broke ground in April and is expected to cost $39.2 million, Texas Department of Transportation Austin District Engineer Carlos Lopez said. Construction is expected to be completed in February 2014.
The final environmental clearance will allow the county to move forward with purchasing right of way and moving utilities for the project's Phase 2, which is expected to be let out to bid sometime in early 2013 and cost $29.9 million, Lopez said. However, Covey said the county is trying to expedite that process.
"We have the green light to go buy right of way and move utilities in that area," Covey said. "From my perspective, we are pushing it to happen as quickly as possible."
Phase 3 of the project, from the southern portion of Phase 2 to I-35, is expected to be bid this fall and is estimated to cost $21.2 million.
The project's funding, about $93 million, comes from Proposition 14 bond money approved in 2003 and reauthorized in 2007, Lopez said. The bond money is backed by federal and state highway funds. Williamson County commissioners also approved $10 million–$12 million to help pay for right of way acquisition, utilities and consultant costs.