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City, state officials may revive overpass funding deal

By DAVID TEWES
Oct. 17, 2010 at 5:17 a.m.


If you go

What: City council meeting to consider a funding agreement for Zac Lentz Parkway overpasses.

Where: 107 W. Juan Linn St.

When: 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The possibility still exists of building two overpasses on Zac Lentz Parkway in northeast Victoria.

City and state officials will meet Monday to see if they can work out differences on funding for the project. The City Council is also scheduled to vote Tuesday on the agreement.

"I haven't given up hope," said District Engineer Lonnie Gregorcyk with the Texas Department of Transportation. "I sure hope we can figure out a way to put our heads together and get it accomplished."

Mayor Will Armstrong also sounded optimistic.

"I can tell you right now I think we'll be able to come to an agreement," he said. "But we're willing to stop the project if we don't think the deal is fair."

Armstrong said last week the city council had reached a consensus to back out of the overpass funding deal with the state. The overpasses would be at Mockingbird Lane near the East High School and Salem Road, the site of several fatal crashes.

The state contacted the city Tuesday to arrange a meeting to discuss the differences, Armstrong said.

One reason the city wanted to pull out of the deal was because it negotiated 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 far over the estimate the city couldn't afford it, he added.

When the city received a copy of the agreement from the state, there had been significant changes, the mayor said.

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.

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

The commissioners court agreed 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 $8 million.

Victoria also planned to issue debt to pay for the 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.

Finding funding is as tough for local governments as it is for the state, Gregorcyk said.

"But that's a major safety improvement," he said. "That's a long-term safety improvement."

Gregorcyk thinks the winning bid will come in well below the engineering estimate from three years ago. He said contractors are aggressive because of the economy.

Armstrong said the state has already informally presented several options to city staff, Armstrong said. He declined to discuss them until after the Monday meeting.

"They are showing considerable interest and willingness to talk and negotiate," he said. "I hope that we can come to an agreement."

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