Thursday, December 20, 2007

“Their word is only as good as long as they stay in office.”

TxDOT: Six lanes for Texas 46 is key


By David Saleh Rauf
The Herald-Zeitung (New Braunfels, TX)
Copyright 2007

State transportation officials said Wednesday converting a portion of Texas 46 in Comal County into a six lane highway wouldn’t have much of an impact on the area.

The finding, which came from an environmental assessment, showed no significant social, economic or environmental impact and gives the Texas Department of Transportation the green-light to begin widening Texas 46 from Kerlick Lane to David Jonas Drive.

The project calls for transforming nearly six miles of the current two-lane road — from Loop 337 to just east of David Jonas Drive — to six lanes. One lane will be added to the segment of Texas 46 from Kerlick Lane to the loop, and the six lane-highway is expected to dwindle back down to two lanes just before David Jonas Drive.

A 1.4 mile stretch between Loop 337 and Farm-to-Market 1863 is expected to be built first at a cost of about $25 million. TxDOT’s schematics for the projects also include an overpass at the intersection of Texas 46 and Farm-to-Market 2722.

TxDOT officials have said they expect to begin construction on the $65 million widening and improvement project by this summer. Construction could take three years to complete and is expected to help alleviate congestion and improve safety on one of the county’s and the city’s main arteries.

TxDOT officials anticipate daily traffic on Texas 46 east of Farm-to-Market 2722 will increase from 14,000 vehicles in 2006 to around 40,000 vehicles by 2030. TxDOT engineers also calculated that the rate of crashes for this portion of Texas 46 far exceeded the statewide average from 1998 to 2001. Officials did not present more recent data regarding accidents.

About 75 people attended Wednesday’s meeting to see the future of Texas 46 west of the loop. Only six spoke during the public comment portion, including two elected officials who praised the deal. Most of the others voiced moderate concern for the project. TxDOT officials did not respond to the public’s questions at the hearing, citing policy that prevents them from doing so.

A portion of the Texas 46 improvement project will paid for by the county. Comal County officials entered into a pass-through agreement with TxDOT to expedite improvements to Texas 46 by about 20 to 30 years. The county will loan the state $16 million to widen Texas 46 and another $16 million for improvements to US 281. The state will pay back the county 10 cents for every vehicle mile traveled over the construction area in a given year.

“I don’t like using your tax dollars to subsidize the state,” Pct. 2 Commissioner Jay Milikin said. “But it will be the best money your commissioner’s court will have spent in a long time.”

During the public speaking portion of the hearing, Milikin addressed a hot-button transportation topic, re-emphasizing the commissioner’s court stance that no toll roads will be built on existing roads in the county.

“As commissioner’s we try to avoid using four letter words but that doesn’t always happen,” he said. “The four letter word you won’t hear on this project or the US 281 project is t-o-l-l.”

But anti-toll road activist Pat Dossey, of San Antonio, said the county’s pass through agreement does not guarantee that TxDOT won’t convert Texas 46 or US 281 in Comal into toll roads in the future. Dossey, a member of the outspoken anti-toll road group Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom, said the agreement to not toll existing roads in the county is contingent on the current commissioners and their anti-toll road stance staying in office.

“You don’t know who will be in office five years from now,” he said. “Their word is only as good as long as they stay in office.”

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