Overpass construction begins
By LPR Staff
In traffic concerns, as in many things, it is always darkest before the dawn. Night has not yet fallen over Highway 183 through downtown Lockhart, but sunset is coming.
Construction began on Monday on the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT”s) long-awaited overpass project, which will allow traffic on Highway 183 t
o continue to move despite the presence of trains on the Union Pacific Railroad tracks north of the Courthouse Square. Although early stages of construction are not expected to impede the progress of traffic, changes could come quickly as construction moves forward.
Lockhart City Manager Vance Rodgers told the city council on Tuesday that TxDOT expects the construction to take nine months from groundbreaking to completion, and has taken steps to ensure that timeline.
“There is a bonus on the project of $300,000 for early completion,” Rodgers said. “But on the other hand, there are penalites, upwards of $10,000 that could amount to almost $300,000 for the contractor for finishing late, as well.”
Rodgers said construction, which will stretch some 901 linear feet from China Street southward, is scheduled on a “two-tiered” basis, meaning that TxDOT will close one northbound and one southbound lane at a time while construction is completed on the upper structures of the overpass. Contractors hope to have the overpass itself open for traffic by August.
A consistent concern the council has voiced in preparation for the construction is the impact lane closures could have on local traffic, particularly for commuters and emergency services.
“We”re going to encourage people to use [alternate thoroughfares] as much as possible,” Rodgers said. “Because it”s clear that traffic is going to back up, and it”s going to be backed up quite a way.”
Additionally, Rodgers said, police, fire and EMS services have worked together to establish alternative routes that will not require travel on Highway 183 during construction.
“One thing we need to find out is whether we can get some kind of temporary light [at the corner of Highway 183 and FM 2001],” Councilmember Lew White said. “That”s a blind intersection anyway, and if that”s where we”re going to be diverting our citizens, we want to make that as safe as possible for them.
Rodgers said he would attempt to negotiate additional safety measures, but has already taken steps to work toward stepped-up traffic enforcement in the area.
Councilmember Michael Sanders posed a question regarding a financial settlement to the property owners that will be affected by the construction. Rodgers said the award had been paid, but an appeal of the judgment was still pending, and that at least one property owner may be required to pay reimbursements if the appeal is granted.
While construction of the overpass is ongoing, Rodgers vowed the city would work with the schools, funeral homes and users of the City Park to ensure the least amount of disruption throughout the spring and summer.
In other business:
The council heard a presentation from Patty Gonzales, a representative from Time Warner Cable, regarding new legislation that will require broadcast television stations to upgrade from analog to digital service by February 2009.
According to Gonzales, the only television stations affected by this legislation will be those that broadcast “over the air.” Therefore, only customers who receive these channels via antenna or “rabbit ears” will need to purchase converter boxes. Other viewers will not be affected by the change.
Material provided by Gonzales indicates Congress decided to push the Digital Television Transition (DTV) in order to “free up” radio frequencies, many of which can be used by emergency services after the transition. She said digital broadcasting requires about one-fifth the bandwidth that analog broadcasting requires. When the nation”s analog television stations convert, they will vacate an enormous amount of bandwidth, which will then be available for emergency and cellular services.
Citizens and politicians have expressed concern that DTV will be a cost-prohibitive mandate for many customers. However, Gonzales said companies such as hers are working to ease the transition.
“Again, all of our basic-service and standard-service customers, as well as our digital cable customers, will not be affected,” she said. “And the government is offering coupons for up to $40 for the purchase of the converter boxes that the customers that are affected will need. However, many customers with newer television sets will not be affected anyway, because most televisions sold after March 2007 already include digital tuners.”
The main concern that may meet Lockhart”s television viewers will center around the broadcasting of the City of Lockhart”s dedicated channel (TWC Channel 10). Gonzales said Time Warner hopes to upgrade the station, which currently broadcasts in analog and is upgraded to a digital transmission, to a digital station this year. After the upgrade, basic- and standard-service cable customers may not be able to view the station. Time Warner will provide stripped-out converter boxes to those customers who might be inconvenienced by that change.
In brief council news:
The City of Lockhart received a “clean opinion” on its Fiscal Year 2007 audit. According to Bruce Walson with the city”s independent auditing firm, although there were three areas of concern discovered in the audit, no major inconsistencies in finances were noted. Walson said the city is in “stable financial condition,” with two to three months in reserve in each of the four major funds.
The council approved an agreement with the Lockhart Independent School District and the Gonzales County Underground Water Conservation District that will allow the three entities to share polling location space during early voting for the May 10, 2008, election. According to City Secretary Connie Ortiz, because the agreement is for space only and not staff, ballots or tabulation, the city will not incur additional election costs as a result of the agreement.
The council considered changing the responsibilities of the Ad Hoc Charter Review Committee. The proposed changes would have removed certain ordinances from the committee”s scope. However, they decided to forward the list to the committee to allow the members to review and weigh in on the proposed changes before they are approved or denied by the council.
The Lockhart City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Room of Lockhart City Hall. Meetings are open to the public and are televised on Time Warner Cable Channel 10.