By Kathi Bliss
For years, Lockhart drivers have noticed a particular problem on Highway 183 – especially during peak traffic times. The city’s main north-south thoroughfare tends to get a bit crowded, and difficult to navigate as drivers attempt to turn left into the many businesses that line Highway 183 through Lockhart.
Last week, after a nod from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), it appears that problem may be one step closer to solved.
The regional planning group, after a lengthy and by some accounts occasionally thorny meeting, agreed to offer a portion of Lockhart’s “Highway 183 Corridor Project” to the Texas Transportation Commission as one of several projects the group would like to see funded in the near future, using a portion of the $48 million set aside from voter approved “Proposition 12” funds.
“This is something that we’ve been looking about and thinking about, as long as I’ve been here,” said Lockhart City Planner Dan Gibson, who led the team instrumental in securing the CAMPO nod. “I’ve always thought it was an issue, and this is something that Planning and Zoning has worked on… it’s a portion of what we’re working on for our ‘Colorado Street Corridor Plan…’”
Gibson said the project took a giant leap forward this summer, when he discovered that CAMPO would be making recommendations and that the City of Lockhart’s project could be eligible to be part of the funding package.
“We had a lot of the research and leg-work already done,” he said. “So when we discovered that we had three weeks to put in the application, we were ready with some of that information.”
Gibson said he turned the application over to Associate Planner Hans Friedel, and let him take the lead on the project.
“I’ve thought, since I got to Lockhart, that there were things that we could do with 183 to make it more development-friendly, and to encourage business along that major thoroughfare,” Friedel said. “Cars don’t window shop. So what my overall idea was, originally, is that we need sidewalks. We need turn lanes. We need to make it easier for those businesses to attract customers, and easier for the customers to utilize those businesses.”
This project, if approved by the Texas Transportation Commission, will be the first step in making that idea a reality.
The plan includes an expansion of Highway 183 from Pecan Street to the area just north of Smith Supply, where a planned right-hand turn lane is already scheduled for construction in connection with the forthcoming Super Wal-Mart. In addition, it plans for construction of eight-foot sidewalks on both sides of the road.
Despite rumors and concerns to the contrary, Friedel stressed the project will not include any taking of private property.
“There are businesses that have been using the state right-of-way for parking, and for other uses, and we’ve spoken to those businesses already,” he said. “It will have some impact on them, but so far, everyone has been understanding of what will happen and why it will happen.”
The rights-of-way in question, both Gibson and Friedel said, are public property owned by the state, and the City of Lockhart has no jurisdiction to dictate the state’s use of that property. Most importantly, they said, although the project pitch came from a team led by City of Lockhart citizens, employees and elected officials, it will be a state project, using state-funded dollars and executed through the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
“Another thing that people need to be aware of is the fact that a project was already on the books to chip and re-pave Highway 183,” Gibson said. “We expect that to start in 2012, and when that construction gets going, people are going to think it’s part of this project. But it’s not. That project is going to go forward, and then this will be later.”
If funding for the project is approved, construction is expected to begin and be complete during the 2013 calendar year.
According to City Manager Vance Rodgers, before the construction begins, the City of Lockhart will have to relocate utilities, including electric, water and wastewater. That relocation, which some estimates say could cost up to $3.6 million, must be done before the construction can commence.
Rodgers presented the notion to the City Council on Tuesday evening, and asked their permission to consider funding sources for the utility relocation. He advised the council that the city may have to move quickly to secure funding and relocate the utilities, and suggested that, at the very least, he wanted to have research and information in place before the TTC rules on the project later this month.
Rodgers said he and Gibson had a meeting scheduled with the Texas Department of Transportation next week, incidentally the same day that the TTC plans to meet to discuss CAMPO’s funding recommendations.
The construction project, if approved, will require nearly $13.4 million in funding from the 2007 ballot initiative known as “Proposition 12,” 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.
Follow future editions of the Post-Register for more information on the Highway 183 Corridor project, if and when funding is approved.