By Kathi Bliss
As the Texas Department of Transportation prepares for a massive, grant-funded expansion of Highway 183, the City of Lockhart has been grappling with a method to pay for their part of the project.
In order for the expansion, which will allow for expanded driving surfaces and a turn lane through central Lockhart from Pecan Street to Smith Supply, the City of Lockhart has to move several utility lines, water and wastewater lines, and electric primary lines. The cost of the utility relocation is expected to cost $3.6 million, according to figures presented to the City Council by City Manager Vance Rodgers recently.
In addition to the city-owned utilities, lines owned by Time Warner Cable and AT&T will also have to be relocated. While those companies have agreed to relocate their lines, they have expressed an unwillingness to pay for that relocation.
The companies have, however, entered agreements with the City of Lockhart to reduce those costs, provided the bores and conduits installed by the City meet the specifications they set forth for their utility relocations.
After months of research and preparing for the project, Rodgers presented a proposal to the council during their Nov. 5, 2012, meeting that will allow for funding of the utility relocation to be financed through the State of Texas’s Infrastructure Bank, over a period of 20 years.
According to the figures Rodgers presented, financing the project through the State Infrastructure Bank will cost the City approximately $253,131 annually. Much of the burden of that payment will be passed through to utility customers. Residential customers could see an increase of up to $3.85 per month on their base service, while commercial customers could see an increase up to $9.20.
The increases in utility payments caused some members of the council to balk.
Some claimed that every time the City wants to purchase something, they look to utility cost increases and use those funds to pay for their spending. However, Rodgers and others defend the increase in this case because of the benefits to the Highway 183 expansion project.
Approved earlier this year through the Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and later through TxDOT, the project will effect a massive overhaul of Highway 183.
In addition to installing a turn lane and expanding the driving surface for all four lanes of Highway 183 through Lockhart, the project will also allow for installation of sidewalks through the length of the route from Pecan Street to Smith Supply, increasing mobility and user-friendliness of Lockhart’s main thoroughfare. All this will be done, Rodgers has reiterated, without any “private takings,” meaning that no private property will be acquired and all construction will be done in already-existing rights-of-way owned by the State.
The cost of the expansion project, estimated at $13.4 million dollars, will be grant-funded under a 2007 ballot initiative known as “Proposition 12,” which was a voter-approved amendment to the Texas Constitution which allowed for issuance of $5 billion in general issuance bonds for highway improvements. In the 2007 Constitutional Amendment election, Proposition 12 passed with 62.6 percent of voter support.
After the grant proposal was prepared by the City of Lockhart Planning Department last fall, the citizens of Lockhart will be getting their share of that $5 billion pie, in the form of the expansion of Highway 183.
The timeline for work on the project, particularly where TxDOT is concerned, remains somewhat unclear, as approval had to be obtained first for the utility relocation. TxDOT has specific requirements for utilities in such projects, and those specifications must be met before construction can begin on the project.
Among those specifications, utilities may not be located under any TxDOT sidewalk construction, and power lines that cross the highway must be relocated to underground conduits.
With the council’s approval to seek the funding from the State Infrastructure Bank, work should commence soon on the utility relocation, opening the door for TxDOT to begin the expansion, perhaps as early as next year.
Talks continue regarding the project, and will include a joint workshop on Tuesday, Nov. 27, between the City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission to discuss a draft of the plan.
That workshop will be held in the Glosserman Conference Room at Lockhart City Hall, beginning at 6:30 p.m. It will be open to the public, and televised on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10.