More doom and gloom about Hwy 46; TxDOT shuns Bulverde City Council for simply wanting input on project

Link to article here.

Once again, Comal County and TxDOT officials are trying to bully the Bulverde City Council into going against their constituents to raise taxes to fund a STATE highway project. The Council was asking for very reasonable concessions (read more here), and TxDOT essentially told them “it’s our way or no way” even though they were asking the City for nearly $2 million to fund the project. TxDOT has every local government thinking it’s do it TxDOT’s way or it’ll be tolled.

If Judge Scheel thinks TxDOT isn’t going to toll everything as soon as it’s found “feasible,” he has some reading to do, like the Transportation Commission meeting minutes from Decmber 18, 2003 where they mandate ALL new road improvements in Texas will be studied for tolls first! It’s also a misstaement of fact to say tolls aren’t part of the pass through agreement since pass through financing is “shadow tolling” by TxDOT’s own admission at a recent MPO meeting, AND the possible future imposition of tolls are in the pass through contract on page 3.

Truth is, there’s a host of ways to fund highway improvements, but TxDOT refuses to implement them. Bottom line: Bulverde doesn’t want a massive 6 lane highway running through the Texas Hill Country. There’s evidence TxDOT wants to makes Hwy 46 a truck route to bypass San Antonio (See I-10 freight study recommendations. Click on Texas then scroll to San Antonio here.). RESIDENTS DON’T WANT IT and it violates Bulverde’s Master Plan. Not even US 281 has 6 lanes in Comal County and it carries more than twice the traffic. The problems on 46 are largely due to the school drop-off/pick-up which is more of a logistics problem rather than a capacity problem. TxDOT refuses to see this, the County refuses to see this, but thankfully, the City Council sees there are less invasive, more affordable solutions than jumping into a MAJOR highway expansion through small town USA!

Also note how TxDOT’s David Casteel implies there’s non-toll funds for Hwy 46 in Bulverde, but they won’t release those funds unless Bulverde gives TxDOT a blank check and cedes all input and control of the project to TxDOT, EVEN THOUGH THEY’RE ASKING BULVERDE FOR NEARLY $2 MILLION! This is standard operating procedure for TxDOT (read about their bullying tactics in El Paso here). There’s money, they simply use their unbridled power to extort more money from local governments for STATE highways which are the State’s responsibility.

Bulverde taking heat for shunning highway project
By Roger Croteau
Express-News Staff Writer

NEW BRAUNFELS — The Bulverde City Council’s decision not to take part in a state project to widen Texas 46 will lead to even worse traffic jams as the road narrows on the outskirts of town, officials said.

And the project will cost the city much more later if it’s decided it’s needed then, Comal County officials warned.

The City Council last month rejected the Texas Department of Transportation plan to widen Texas 46 to six lanes through the city, with council members saying they wanted assurances that TxDOT would follow the city’s wishes on how to design the project.

An effort at last week’s council meeting to reconsider the matter was killed in a 3-2 vote.

“I have no reasonable explanation of what their thoughts were in turning down a $20 million project,” said County Judge Danny Scheel. “This was a one-of-a-kind deal, in my opinion, a sweetheart deal that will never be repeated.”

County Commissioner Jay Millikin said he understands the city’s reluctance to raise taxes to fund its share of right of way acquisition.

“But, in fact, it will be a bottleneck,” Millikin said. “As you reach the Bulverde city limits, it will be choked down.”

Bulverde was asked to provide about $800,000 for right of way and utility relocation costs and would have been responsible for about $1 million in interest payments on a loan to TxDOT that would provide the money to build the project.

But money was not the reason the council rejected the offer, Mayor Sarah Stevick said.

Council members wanted TxDOT to build the road at the width that was proposed but to only stripe four traffic lanes for now and add striping for the final two lanes in the future, when traffic counts warrant that much capacity.

Stevick said six lanes would be “just too big of a highway.” There were other design elements the city objected to, as well, she said.

“The council and some residents thought we had absolutely no say in the project at all,” Stevick said. “TxDOT said they would work with us, but could not guarantee anything.”

Stevick and Councilman Mike Mobley said they think the only way the topic will come back before the council is if TxDOT comes back with a new proposal that alleviates the city’s concerns.

TxDOT District Engineer David Casteel said the department will continue environmental and preparatory studies in case Bulverde changes its mind, but will only widen the highway from Loop 337 in New Braunfels to the Bulverde city limit.

He said a bottleneck on Texas 46 around U.S. 281 is a major concern. About 16,000 cars a day use Texas 46 there, and there are about eight wrecks a month.

“To say the least, we are perplexed and mystified by some of their (council’s) actions,” Casteel said. “We can’t let the money sit there waiting for Bulverde. I’ve got 12 counties, and every county out there has serious needs. We will put that money to work.”

As a result, he said, it could take several years for money to be available to widen the highway through Bulverde if the council decides later to pursue a project, and the funding scenario could be less favorable than what is being offered now.

Scheel predicted that any financing to widen Texas 46 in Bulverde later would include tolls. None are in the deal offered now.

Comal County officials persuaded TxDOT to offer a “pass through financing” plan to expedite construction, slated to start next year. The county and cities involved in the project will borrow $16 million to lend to TxDOT. The state will then pay back the principal to the county and cities over a few years, with the local governments paying the interest. The rest of the project’s $63 million price tag will be paid by the state.

The New Braunfels City Council and the Comal County Commission voted unanimously to take part in the project.