Officials: Road project could help economic development

With the way that governments do business, inter jurisdictional cooperation is essential to get just about anything done. It took a Williamson County bond election in 2006 and work on the part of Williamson County and the City of Leander to bring the Lakeline Boulevard extension project to fruition, but the governmental bodies did not do it alone.

Developers and landowners pitched in to help Leander purchase the right of way necessary to extend Lakeline Boulevard from its current dead end at Crystal Falls Parkway to Old FM 2243 in late 2010.

"It's going to be a really important project, especially for Leander on the western side in terms of north-south connectivity," said Cynthia Long, Williamson County Precinct 2 commissioner.

A boon to connectivity

The county is interested in increasing mobility for residents. Leander officials, developers and residents have all touted the project based on its expected effect on economic development in the area.

"I think it's a tremendous asset to the City of Leander to have that kind of roadway in because growth is coming. It's already here, and it will continue," said Linda Heireman-Hall, a longtime Leander resident and property owner along the planned extension.

Long is looking ahead to see how it will affect other intersections, especially the one at US 183 and Lakeline Boulevard.

"That intersection has lots of jurisdictions. It's in the City of Austin, it's in Williamson County, it has Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority involvement, it has Texas Department of Transportation involvement. But knowing what's getting ready to happen north of there, it's all that much more incumbent to deal with that intersection," Long said.

The county is building two lanes, but as development occurs along the roads, developers or the city may pitch in to add two more. Long said the county hopes to have engineering finished by late summer or early fall, which would allow the county to go to bid for the project in early fall. The extension is extimated to be complete in fall 2013.

If you build it, they will come

Developer Bill Hinckley, president of Crystal Falls developer The Lookout Group, said the extension is crucial for him and his business.

"Lakeline will soon deliver the needed connectivity to the north and will provide us, as developers, with the ingress and egress we needed to support the first-class commercial components we promised the city and our residents over 15 years ago," Hinckley said.

Leander Mayor John Cowman said an undisclosed grocery store is looking into the feasibility of locating at Crystal Falls Parkway and Lakeline Boulevard.

"I can't mention [the name], they've asked me not to, so I'm going to codify it," Cowman said. He spoke about the planned development in his Jan. 24 State of the City speech for the Greater Leander Chamber of Commerce. "It may work out or it may not, but I believe it will. And it's remarkable."

Hinckley would not comment on any specific grocery component but said he has kept his word to the City of Leander and worked with the city. He said he was attracted to Leander because of the quantity of land available.

"Having such an assemblage of land gives you the scale to manage quality and control your destiny through the selection of builders, product type, and covenants and restrictions," Hinckley said. "But you must have the backbone to weather the ups and downs of the market. It has admittedly been a struggle at times, but we kept the vision pure."

The long and winding road

Though the county had funds to complete the project from the 2006 road bond, Leander was tasked with acquiring the right of way. Hinckley and the other landowners were asked to donate the right of way necessary to complete the construction of the extension, and they all agreed, save one. Landowners Hinckley, MHI and Kennedy Properties of Texas all gave money to the City of Leander to purchase the right of way from the one holdout.

"We thought, 'Is it worth contributing the land? Is it worth kicking in any extra?' And the owners felt like it was," said Jim Zimmermann, a project manager contracting with MHI.

Going forward

Though Williamson County will pay for and coordinate construction, once the roadway is completed, the city will take over maintenance, which the city has accounted for in its scope of services. Leander's director of development services, Jim Bechtol, said the extension could potentially serve several thousand trips per day based on traffic counts taken in 2010.

"I am just glad the drama is over," Hinckley said. "We knew it had to be built, but it was always murky as to who would pay for it and when. I think the way it ended up was pretty fair for all."