Friday, March 06, 2009

Perry's Texas Transportation Commission outmaneuvers Texas Legislature---again

Central Texas gets three road projects in final stimulus list

$107 of stimulus money makes up bulk of $149 million for 290 interchange, I-35 bridge in Buda and widening of FM 1460 in Round Rock.


By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

The Texas Transportation Commission, shrugging off concerns that it is moving too fast and favoring toll road projects, decided unanimously Thursday to spend $1.2 billion in federal stimulus money on 29 projects around the state.

The list includes three in Central Texas: flyover bridges at U.S. 290 and U.S. 183, a new Interstate 35 bridge in Buda, and the widening of FM 1460 in Round Rock.

With local contributions, about $2.6 billion in road projects would result from the $1.2 billion of federal money, about two-thirds for tollway projects. Most if not all construction would begin by the fall.

The Central Texas projects — the Buda and Round Rock work was not on a list released a week ago — would cost $149 million, with $107 million coming from the stimulus bill, $30 million from the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and $12 million from local sources.

U.S. 290/U.S. 183 interchange: This project would be at the U.S. 290 East tollway's west end and involve either three or four flyover bridges, depending on bid amounts. The mobility authority, which would build and operate the project, would get $90 million of stimulus money and borrow $30 million.

The entire tollway project, running more than five miles from U.S. 183 to east of Texas 130, would have been a stimulus candidate, but overall was not deemed "shovel ready."

The flyovers' cost, estimated at $160 million in February, fell to $145 million a week ago, then to $120 million Thursday. Mobility authority director Mike Heiligenstein said the cost estimate changes were a matter of miscommunication. However, Thursday was the first time that any official involved had indicated that fewer than four bridges might be built.

Buda bridge: The $9 million overpass would be built at Main Street and I-35. Of the total, $7 million would come from the commission list, and $2 million would be local money.

FM 1460: Listed earlier as costing $28 million with local governments providing $24 million, the project Thursday was shown as costing $20 million. Local governments would still provide the right of way for widening the road from two lanes to four; $10 million would come from the stimulus, with the remaining $10 million raised locally. A developer has pledged $5 million, officials said.

The list approved Thursday includes $121 million to widen Interstate 35 from four lanes to six lanes between Salado and Belton.

About two-thirds of the stimulus money would go to toll roads, a decision that has sparked criticism. Some legislators urged the commission to delay the decision to give them time to analyze the list and the criteria the Texas Department of Transportation used.

TxDOT officials have said that the provisions of the economic stimulus bill require the agency to move quickly. At least 50 percent of the total $2.25 billion of highway stimulus money allocated to Texas must be ready for bidding by June 30.

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