By Kathi Bliss
A project intended to increase safety and maneuverability on Highway 183 hit a snag this week, as the Lockhart City Council learned the cost of the project may have taken a significant jump.
City Manager Vance Rodgers and Texas Department of Transportation engineer Roy Deale approached the council on Tuesday evening to give a report on the project, which included some bad news. Apparently, the underground drainage that had been worked into the project, which will widen Highway 183 to 5 lanes and install sidewalks through Lockhart, is impossible to execute within the $13.9 million budget the way it was planned.
“They were physically unable to do the project the way it was planned,” Deale said. “Setting up the drainage the way it had been planned would have caused significant problems for property owners downstream.”
Instead, working with a design consultant, the project was changed to include underground drainage extending northward from FM 20 E (Blackjack St.) to Pecan Street, and above-ground drainage from FM 20 E south to Chisholm Trail (Wal-Mart).
The above-ground drainage would be “properly graded,” Rodgers said, which should help alleviate the flooding problems that currently beset the area during heavy rains.
However, Rodgers expressed displeasure with the consultants and suggested that their attitude toward the project was lacking.
Building the project as it was originally intended, with all underground drainage, would add between $1.5 and $2 million to the cost of the project; the City of Lockhart would have to provide those funds.
Mayor Lew White expressed his frustration with the development, and questioned whether the consultant ignored “key problems with the drainage,” but Deale maintained they have done the best they can.
Councilmember Richard Banks made no secret of his disappointment with the necessary changes to the project, and commented that he was against raising utility rates to fund the project, in the first place.
“This is a bait and switch,” Banks said. “Why can’t we get out of it?”
Under the grant agreement, if the City of Lockhart chooses to abandon the project, they will have to repay any money spent by TxDOT for the current development of the project. That, White said, is not an option.
Instead, if the City chooses to accept the changes to the project, without pushing for underground drainage from one end to the other, the project could still come in under budget.
The Council authorized Rodgers to continue working with TxDOT to find viable solutions to the drainage problems and move the project forward.
Construction is expected to begin in March 2014.
In other business, the City of Lockhart has entered negotiations with the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce to discuss the construction and lease of a rodeo arena in Lockhart City Park.
Spurred by the success of last year’s rodeo, which was recently awarded the “Best New Rodeo Award” by the Cowboys’ Professional Rodeo Association, the Chamber hopes to construct a more permanent arena in the City Park, which will allow the hosting of more frequent rodeo events.
A sticking point in the contract, however, is the notion that the City should be entitled to a portion of the rodeo proceeds, after the arena has been built and the Chamber has recouped their investment.
White suggested after a period of time that the City should be entitled to a portion of those proceeds, because although they will not be responsible for maintenance or upkeep of the arena, the Parks Department is responsible for the area surrounding the arena, in Lockhart City Park.
Negotiations are expected to continue, with the lease agreement to be in place and the arena constructed before next summer.
In brief news:
The mayor read a series of proclamations, including recognition of the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center, Red Ribbon Week, Hispanic Heritage Month and Head Start Program Day.
City Planner Dan Gibson offered the semi-annual report of collection of water and wastewater impact fees for the last six months. Those fees included six new homes, and several commercial projects.
The Lockhart City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Room at Lockhart City Hall. The meetings are open to the public and televised on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10.