By KIM ESTES
Four Points News
A competitive bond sale was scheduled on April 18, as Travis County put plans into action for the issuance of $48.5 million in certificates of obligation to fund a variety of projects, including an emergency evacuation route for Steiner Ranch.
On Feb. 28, county commissioners unanimously approved funding for the flight path as part of a list of priority safety projects to be paid for through COs, a debt funding mechanism that does not require voter approval.
Currently, only $2.7 million of the total issuance is for the Steiner evacuation route as initially drafted and estimated. Commissioners have said that specific details of the road are incomplete. “At this point, Travis County is in the planning and feasibility phase and will be evaluating how best to provide an emergency access,” said David Greear, Transportation and Natural Resources engineering division manager with Travis County.
However, in advance of the bond sale, Moody’s Investor Services and S&P Global Ratings affirmed Travis County’s bond ratings at “Aaa” and “AAA,” respectively. These are the highest possible ratings by both rating agencies.
“We view the county’s management as very strong, with ‘strong’ financial policies and practices under our financial management assessment methodology, indicating financial practices are strong, well-embedded and likely sustainable,” said S&P in a press release.
The Triple-A-rating, which the county has maintained since 2001, allows the county to borrow funds at favorable interest rates. “Travis County maintains strong financial policies and practices so that we may maximize our limited resources when making infrastructure investments in our community. This rating reflects the confidence that the rating agencies have in the county’s stewardship of tax dollars,” said county judge, Sarah Eckhardt.
Greear said the Steiner evacuation route project is one of the county’s highest priorities and officials did not want to wait for the 2017 bond referendum.
Many Steiner homeowners have wanted an additional exit route since the 2011 Labor Day weekend wildfires forced a residential evacuation that took hours. 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.
In addition to more exits from Steiner, the project is also looking for entrances into the neighborhood for Montview Acres residents in case the low water crossing on Fritz Hughes Park Drive is ever blocked, damaged or washed out, said Greear.
There will be opportunities for affected homeowners to voice concerns and give input on this project in the coming months, he added.
CO funding will pay for an extensive list of work in addition to the Steiner emergency evacuation route. Other projects include:
• Completion of the remaining voter-approved projects authorized in November 2011 for road, drainage, bridge and bike/pedestrian projects, as well as park and land conservation projects.
• Additional critical safety projects like Hodde Lane improvements and the buyout of flood-prone properties in the Thoroughbred Farms neighborhood.
• Funding of final amounts related to the Ronald Earle Building, which will house the District Attorney’s Office, the new medical examiner facility and a new Southeast Travis County community center,
•Funding for the initial planning phase of the Southwest Sportsplex, a future capital project to be submitted to voters, said Eckhardt.