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Deal for Victoria overpasses dumped

By DAVID TEWES
Oct. 12, 2010 at 5:12 a.m.


WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?Victoria and the Texas Department of Transportation have been unable to reach a funding agreement for two overpasses on Zac Lentz Parkway.

Randy Bena with the Texas Department of Transportation said it will probably be 10 or 15 years before funding for that project is available again.

It appears plans to build two overpasses on Zac Lentz Parkway in northeast Victoria are dead because the city no longer intends to help pay for the project.

"Everything has changed," Mayor Will Armstrong said. "Our priorities have changed drastically since we went to Austin."

Randy Bena with the Texas Department of Transportation said that means funding for the overpasses probably won't be available again for 10 or 15 years.

"There is no other way to fund it within the Texas Department of Transportation," he said. "It's kind of a dead issue right now."

The city, county and state had agreed to help fund overpasses on the parkway at Mockingbird Lane near East High School and at Salem Road, the site of fatal crashes.

The estimated construction cost was $22.6 million, although the state believes bids could have come in as low as $18 million to $20 million, given the economy.

The commissioners court agreed earlier to pay $3.3 million of the local match over 11 years beginning in 2014. The city council agreed to pick up the balance of the local match of $9 million.

Victoria also planned to issue debt to pay for most of the rest of the cost, with the state reimbursing the city for the principal over time based on traffic volume. Interest on the debt was estimated at $7.8 million.

Bena said safety at the intersections is a concern if the overpasses aren't built.

He said the traffic signal at Mockingbird and the parkway, also called Loop 463, was intended to be a temporary fix until the overpass was built there. But he said that so far it appears to be handling traffic well.

The Salem Road intersection is Bena's biggest concern.

"We don't have any immediate plans to address it," he said. "I'm not sure how we will handle it."

The city sent a letter to the state on Oct. 7 notifying it the city no longer planned to participate in the deal. But it encourages the state to keep the project high on its priority list.

"Several council members believe that the overpasses on Loop 463 are a valuable worthwhile addition to the highway, but the current economic times make this contract too great a risk for the city," it states.

Armstrong said there are several reasons the city backed out of the proposed deal with the state.

He said city officials negotiated with the state wording that would allow Victoria to keep any state money left over after the project is done. He said it also negotiated a clause that would allow the city to get out of the deal if the cost came in so high over the estimate the city couldn't afford it.

"We thought we would get the agreement back immediately," Armstrong said. "They waited weeks and weeks and weeks."

When the contract proposal arrived, Armstrong said significant changes had been made.

The new wording stated that if there was city money left over, the state would keep it to spend on a project in the Yoakum District of the state transportation department, he said. It also stated the city could not get out of the contract under any circumstances.

"That's only part of it," Armstrong said. "Since all that time passed, our priorities have changed substantially."

Caterpillar has announced it will build a manufacturing plant at the Lone Tree Business Center and hundreds of trucks a day will be using John Stockbauer Drive, Armstrong said. It is in deteriorated condition and the city plans to rebuild it between the Houston Highway and U.S. Highway 59.

"If we did all of these projects, we would be locked in with no discretionary funds for five years," Armstrong said. "That weighed really, really heavily, I believe, on every city council member."

He said it's his opinion that the city also needs to reserve money to extend Airline Road east to property that has been offered for a destination university. He said that university could bring 5,000 to 10,000 students to the city.

"This could be a university town in 10 years," he said. "This could be bigger than Caterpillar, bigger than DuPont and bigger than Invista."

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