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Travis County asks: How should we spend $450 million on roads and parks?

An aerial view of the end of Main Street in Hays County. To the left and in the distance is undeveloped ranch land. To the right of the road is a large development of single-family homes that includes a small lack. A water tower with a sunflower painted on it rests among the houses.
Nathan Bernier
/
KUT
The end of Main Street in Hays County. One of the bond projects under consideration is a $28.6 million plan to extend Turnersville Road from State Highway 45 Southwest in Travis County to this rapidly developing area just outside Buda.

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Travis County is developing a bond package worth up to $450 million — the largest in county history — and asking residents which road and parks projects they want on the ballot in November.

With the region's land prices soaring and development booming, the county is looking to snatch up property for widening roads and creating parks before costs go even higher.

"There's so much development going on that in another 10 years, there just won't be that land available to purchase or to conserve in its natural state," Travis County Public Works Director David Greear said.

A group of 15 volunteers called the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee (CBAC) has been meeting Wednesday nights since January at the Travis County Administration Building to whittle down a large list of potential projects in the bond package.

Members of the public get three minutes at the start of each meeting to weigh in. People can also submit a comment online or email feedback to cbac2023@traviscountytx.gov.

But few residents have been showing up to the meetings and telling committee members which projects they want funded. That's been a source of frustration for the panel, given the potential enormity of the bond package.

The CBAC has tried to increase public engagement by holding meetings around the county at Manor New Tech Middle School, Del Valle High School and Spicewood Springs Branch Library. A fourth meeting is scheduled for Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Bee Cave City Council Chambers.

"We have had three of the four public meetings. I will go ahead and say they have been lightly attended, unfortunately," CBAC Vice Chair Jennifer Bristol told county commissioners Tuesday. "We are considering [ways] of how to improve that."

CBAC Chair John Langmore told KUT that public input will play a large role in what projects are prioritized.

"This whole process is about the public's wishes for public infrastructure," Langmore said. "We will absolutely build those into the projects that we are considering and those that make the most sense with the limited budget that we have."

The panel will provide the five elected officials on the Travis County Commissioners Court with a menu of options by June 6. Under state law, the commissioners court has until Aug. 21 to call an election for November.

The CBAC is trying to create a list of road, sidewalk and drainage projects valued between $200 million and $250 million. The target for parks, open space and land conservation is about $250 million.

Bonds are a way for local governments to raise money for infrastructure projects by borrowing money from investors and paying it back with interest. The debt payments are funded by local property taxes.

If voters approve the bonds, the annual cost to the owner of an average valued home of $427,920 with a homestead exemption would be about $11 per $100 million of debt. So a $450 million bond would increase that average resident's tax bill by almost $50 a year.

Each road project is given a score based on factors including how often car crashes occur, how economically disadvantaged the area is and the proximity to "pedestrian generators" like parks, libraries, bus routes and schools. A higher score makes the project a higher priority, increasing the odds it will wind up in the bond package.

In eastern Travis County, a mile-long stretch of Blake Manor Road — from Taylor Lane to Burleson Manor Road — has been averaging more than 40 collisions per year. A project to expand the road right now tops the CBAC's list of transportation proposals.

The $16.8 million project would widen Blake Manor Road from a two-lane undivided road to a four-lane divided road with shoulders.

Other road projects being considered include:

  • Widening Pearce Lane from FM 973 to Ross Road South. The mile-long stretch would be expanded from a two-lane undivided road without shoulders to a four-lane divided road with shoulders and a shared-use path on one side. The estimated cost is $14.9 million.
  • Adding a shared-use path on the south side of Howard Lane from McNeil Drive to McNeil-Merriltown Road. The $19.8 million project would give pedestrians and cyclists safer access to CapMetro's Howard MetroRail Station next to MoPac.
  • Expanding Turnersville Road from a two-lane undivided road to a four-lane divided road with a median, bike lanes and sidewalks from SH45 to the end of Main Street in Hays County. The approximate price tag is $28.6 million.

The two biggest parks projects being considered are each $100 million "strategic parkland acquisitions" of land on the east and west sides of the county. Other parks proposals include:

  • A $30 million project to build trails and amenities from Northeast Metro Park to Ben E. Fisher Park. The Gilleland Creek Greenway project, as it's called, would also include renovations of Fisher Park.
  • At Southeast Metro Park, adding synthetic turf on four soccer fields and four baseball fields and building a new maintenance facility. The estimated cost is $22 million.
  • Completing the Bee Creek Sports Complex by adding additional fields and a pavilion for $8.4 million.

The largest bond election in Travis County history was the 2015 vote to approve $287 million in debt for a new Travis County Civil and Family Courthouse. That bond failed with 51% opposed.

The most recent bond election was in 2017. Two propositions for roads and parks — valued at $93.4 million and $91.5 million respectively — easily passed with 73% support.

Correction: The years in which previous bond elections occurred have been corrected.

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Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at nbernier@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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