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City narrowly approves overpass agreement

By DAVID TEWES
Jan. 4, 2011 at 7:05 p.m.
Updated Jan. 3, 2011 at 7:04 p.m.


OVERPASS FUNDING RESPONSIBILITIESThe 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.

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 plans 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 $8.16 million.

A proposal to build two overpasses on Zac Lentz Parkway in east Victoria passed by a single vote Tuesday.

The city council split 3-2 over whether to adopt the agreement with the state outlining funding for the project, which officials hope will prevent deadly traffic crashes.

The decision was welcomed by Texas Department of Transportation engineers.

"From my perspective, they're bringing money to the state to help us build a major safety improvement," said District Engineer Lonnie Gregorcyk with the Texas Department of Transportation. "It's a joint effort."

The state has plans to build overpasses on Zac Lentz Parkway at Mockingbird Lane near the East High School and at Salem Road, the site of several fatal crashes.

Funding for the project, estimated at $22.6 million, would come from the state, city and county. State engineers have said that is a two-year-old estimate and the bids will probably be closer to $18 million to $20 million.

But the city announced last year it was withdrawing from the project because it was not pleased with contract wording about the funding. State and city representatives later met to try to work through the city's concerns.

Council members Gabriel Soliz and David Hagan opposed the agreement. Mayor Pro Tem Paul Polasek and council members Tom Halepaska and Denise Rangel supported it.

Absent were Mayor Will Armstrong and Council Member Joe Truman.

Hagan said he sees value in the project, but he has concerns about how the economy will affect the cost, including the city's financial responsibility.

"I think there is a significant risk down the road of cost overruns," he said. "I think we ought to hold off on this project."

Soliz said he has concerns about the state being able to keep its deal with the city for funding the work. He said the Texas Legislature will, dealing with the economy and its budget, and the state transportation department will undergo sunset review.

Soliz also said spending that much money could keep the city from doing other needed projects.

Before the city council voted, Victoria businessman Rodney Mutschler urged the council to vote for the agreement.

"I think it's a safety issue," he said. "We've had several accidents at Salem, some of them very serious."

Mutschler said traffic on the parkway increases daily, and he thinks many of the employees at the Caterpillar plant planned for Victoria will also use the loop.

"You're going to build an asset that will last maybe 40, 50 or 60 years," he said.

District Engineer Randy Bena with the state transportation department said a contract could be awarded in May, with construction beginning this summer. He said it will take 18 to 24 months to complete the project.

Both overpasses would be done at the same time.

"You've got to construct frontage roads first," Bena said. "Then they would start the overpasses with the traffic split up on the frontage roads."

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