Commissioners to vote on SR evacuation funding

Certificates of Obligation to be used for $2.7m project

Four Points News

Travis County commissioners have decided to use Certificates of Obligation as a new funding mechanism for priority safety projects, with one of those being construction of a Steiner Ranch evacuation route, said Brigid Shea, Precinct 2 commissioner.

“The first wave of safety projects using this new CO funding approach will be voted on February 28 by Commissioners Court,” said Shea.

At Four Points News press time, it was not known if the matter was approved.

“Travis County has historically relied on voter-approved bonds to fund projects every five to seven years,” Shea said.

The next bond election is tentatively scheduled for this coming November.

“Since this project (the Steiner evacuation route) is one of the Travis County’s highest priorities, we are not waiting on the 2017 bond referendum. Commissioner’s Court will make a decision on whether or not to approve the CO’s for this project along with four other projects,” said David Greear, Transportation and Natural Resources engineering division manager.

Four Points News detailed the Travis County evacuation road plans in the Feb. 15 edition.

The funding amounts to $14 million for five projects scattered throughout Travis County. Of the total costs, $2.7 million is for the Steiner evacuation route.

A benefit of CO funding versus a bond is voters may not approve the bond, noted Greear.

Commissioners were to consider the matter at the court’s regular meeting last week, but found themselves short on time and rescheduled for this week.

Approval could be considered good news to many Steiner homeowners, who have been interested in construction of an additional exit route since Labor Day 2011.

That is when wildfires forced a residential evacuation that took six to seven hours, largely due to limited availability of escape routes. As cars queued on the only roadway options, Steiner Ranch Boulevard or Quinlan Park Road, the blaze destroyed two-dozen homes and damaged many others.

A bond referendum was held two months after the fire, but the evacuation route was not on the ballot because bond packages are completed several months or even years before the election, said Shea, who won her court seat in 2014.

“Since 2011, many transportation funding alternatives have been discussed and studied,” she added.

Greear said, “Obtaining funding was the biggest barrier to getting the road built.”

Jessica Rio, Travis County executive for the Planning and Budget Office, said, “Certificates of Obligation are authorized under state law. They can be issued by local governments for a variety of projects listed under the Certificates of Obligation Act.”

The proposed Steiner Ranch evacuation route creates an access channel from Flat Top Ranch Road to Fritz Hughes Park Road and raises the low water crossing at Fritz Hughes Park Road.

If approved, design, permitting and other preliminary activity will begin in June. The anticipated construction start date is January 2019, with an expected completion date of December 2019, said Greear.

The other projects are Hodde Lane safety improvements, Hamilton Pool Road Bridge replacement, Citation Avenue buyout and drainage retrofit and Arroyo Doble/Twin Creeks area drainage retrofit. Costs of these projects are $4.5 million, $1.2 million, $5.1 million and $0.5 million, respectively.

The total cost has decreased from an original projection of $18.1 million to $14 million, as officials have revised quotes for Citation Avenue and Arroyo Doble/Twin Creeks.

Cost dropped by $4.6 million at Arroyo Doble/Twin Creeks when they decided to do only the project design this year. “We didn’t think we could realistically do the design and the construction in the same year,” said Stacey Scheffel, CFM, with TNR development services.

For Citation Avenue, cost increased by $500,000 when an additional phase was added to the project.