by Crystal Gottfried
Expanding Texas Highway 46 in Comal County from two to six lanes would include portions of the roadway in New Braunfels east of the Sun Valley Drive intersection all the way through Bulverde just past the U.S. Highway 281 intersection.
During the July 25 Bulverde City county meeting, members rejected the proposal by a vote of 3-1. Councilwoman Pam Cole voted for the pass-through financing agreement with Comal County and the Texas Department of Transportation, and Councilman Mark Mobley was absent.
Mayor Sarah Stevick said that since that meeting, she and city staff were deluged with calls from residents who want to see that the Texas 46 expansion is completed through Bulverde.
“People were angry because council turned it down,” she said.
Council members have stated that they would not approve the project unless they could see what the expansions looked like.
The county’s agreement with TxDOT for the road work means that Bulverde would be required to pay for about $790,000 in right-of-way acquisitions over seven years; the city’s share of the deal.
Stevick said that taxes for city residents would have to increase by about 2.5 cents to meet this obligation.
Although he voted against the project during the last meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Richard Parker asked that it be put back on the agenda for reconsideration at the August 8 city council meeting, when it was again rejected.
Comal County Judge Danny Scheel said that the pass-through financing deal that the county negotiated with the Texas Department of Transportation was as good as the City of Bulverde would get.
“Since the beginning of this project, there has been a group that just won’t believe that this project didn’t include any toll roads, and they continue to push the issue even though we have repeatedly said that we won’t have tolls on our part of this project,” he said in his remarks at commissioners’ court last Thursday. “What we have just witnessed in Bulverde is that one group of people all but guaranteed that their particular stretch of Texas 46 will be a toll road in the future because I feel there will be no alternative way for them to fund that portion of the road other than through tolls.”
Scheel has publicized the benefits of the pass-through financing plan that the county negotiated with TxDOT and spoken highly of this apparent departure from the state’s road construction practices.
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 and 10 percent of the costs of moving utilities outside the expanded right-of-way property.
The state would be responsible for all engineering and 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 anticipated 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.
Bulverde’s Mayor Stevick told the media last Thursday that she doubted that Texas 46 would ever be tolled in her city.
“I think what the people of Bulverde are looking at is in the future, if it’s done, it will be a TxDOT project, but I don’t see us ever getting to the point of doing it,” she said. “It’s going to have to happen one day, but who’s to say how it will happen? The issue is how much expansion will be needed. The council and the city want a little more to say about how things develop for the six-lane issue and some other problems that were discussed.”
The vote rejecting the agenda item at last Tuesday’s council meeting was 3 to 2 not to reconsider the TxDOT proposed expansion.