County moving forward on road project agreement

by Crystal Gottfried, Staff Writer

The deal that Comal County officials worked with the Texas Department of Transportation for "pass-through financing" on a project to widen and otherwise improve Texas Highway 46 puts the county years ahead in their quest to unsnarl traffic congestion.

County Judge Danny Scheel said that the county was able to get this financing opportunity because they've been working with the state from the very beginning.

"This is an absolute sweetheart deal for Comal County," said Scheel, "because we started negotiating with the state at the start when we formed the 'Central Texas County Judges Mobility Alliance.'"

This Central Texas Mobility Alliance studied the state's projections of which roads would need to be toll roads and then Scheel met with the state again, telling them that the county's taxpayers would not fund a project that would essentially double their ad valorem taxes.

The county and state finally settled on a "pass through financing" agreement.

According to the draft agreement, the county would loan the state $16 million for the Texas State Highway 46 road improvement projects. All the county would be responsible for is the interest on the $16 million, and 10 percent of the cost of right-of-way acquisition plus the costs of moving utilities outside the expanded right-of-way property.

The state would be responsible for all construction work for the project which would be completed in three sections at an estimated $70 million that would be borne through traditional state sources.

The first improvement of the existing roadway section on SH 46 from Old Boerne Rd. to Sun Valley would be to a 3.7 mile, urban four-lane section with continuous left turn lane and storm sewer. The proposed section would require a 150 foot right of way with the additional right of way and utility adjustments to be completed by the county.

The next project consists of a section of SH 46 from RM 2722 to LP 337 which is currently a rural two-lane roadway with continuous left turn lane and drainage ditches.

The proposed improvements would consist of an urban six-lane section for 3.4 miles with continuous left turn lane and storm sewer. The proposed section would require a 150 foot right of way and utility adjustments by the county.

Finally, the existing 12.6 miles of SH 46 from Sun Valley to FM 2722 would be widened, with left turning and passing lanes. No additional right of way property is required for this portion of the highway.

The state will pay the money back to the county over the next four years by reimbursing an amount equal to 10 cents per mile for each vehicle-mile traveled on the highway improvements after each project is substantially completed and open to the public.

The number of vehicle-miles traveled on the project would be determined by TxDOT's traffic estimates which would be derived from a mutually agreed upon counting method.

The annual reimbursement from the state would be no less than $2.6 million and no more than $4 million annually until the $16 million load is repaid.

Also according to the pass-through financing agreement, no tolls may be imposed on the project and the state will be responsible for maintenance of the new roads after the completion of the work.

The county is working on drafting interlocal agreements with New Braunfels and Bulverde for the portions of the projects that would include their city limits because those cities would be responsible for their share of the county's costs for the roadway project.

County Engineer Tom Hornseth told commissioners in court last Thursday that the pass-through agreement, which does not require tolls for either project, has moved the county forward by at least a decade in seeing these road projects started and completed.

Scheel said that county staff would forward the TxDOT agreement and proposed interlocal agreement between city and county to both Bulverde and New Braunfels, and if both cities sign on, the county would begin planning and other advance work right away.

"It's hard to believe that we've gotten this kind of deal from the state," he said. "We need to act on it."

Scheel hopes that the county can begin buying right-of-way this fall for a construction start in early 2008.

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