By Kevin M. Smith
Killeen Daily Herald
Transportation dominated the discussion at the Killeen City Council workshop Tuesday.
Discussions included a city streets master plan, creating a regional mobility authority to find funding mechanisms — including possible tolls — to fund roads and airport advertising.
“We haven’t seen any cessation in the congestion we’re seeing,” said James Butler, public works director.
He noted that Killeen ranks 29th in the state for its population — Houston being No. 1 and Waco No. 21.
The public works department presented a similar presentation to the Transportation Committee on Feb. 12, outlining some top priorities and explaining the process to create a streets master plan.
“It’s not just building new streets, building wider streets or adding a lane here or there,” Butler told the council. “It’s a holistic approach.”
He said safety projects, maintenance and “mobility enhancements” would be part of the plan.
City Engineer George Lueck explained it as a list of potential street projects. The council gave consent for the public works department to work with the Transportation Committee to create a master plan to be proposed to the full council for final approval.
Lueck gave some examples of what type of projects would be included in the master plan, like widening Bunny Trail to four lanes or improving Bacon Ranch Road to pull traffic off Lowes Boulevard.
Butler listed some likely top priorities including reconstructing Watercrest Road and portions of Trimmier Road, resurfacing streets like Avenue D and Gray Street in downtown and installing several new traffic signals.
“We have a list of projects, and we are ready to move out,” Butler said.
The council also discussed creating a Regional Mobility Authority.
“This is just an informational briefing about a tool that is authorized by the Legislature and discussed by KTUTS,” the Killeen-Temple Urban Transportation Study, City Manager Connie Green said.
Shortfalls in the Texas Department of Transportation budget — including $250 million in the Waco District — have led communities to find alternate ways to fund road projects, Green said. An RMA would be created at the county level.
Green said such projects in Bell County could include expanding Interstate 35 and extending State Highway 201. He said TxDOT will be studying major roads to consider them to become toll roads.
“Not that they’ll all become toll roads, but the possibility must be looked at,” Green said.
He said an RMA would give local governments a say in whether roads have tolls; without it, TxDOT could dictate which roads have tolls. And without funding sources, nothing will get done, Green added.
“Without looking at all the tools available to you, many of our transportation projects may be delayed indefinitely,” Green told the council.
Matt Wojnowski, assistant to the city manager, gave a report on RMAs. He said one was formed in Austin with Travis and Williamson counties that led to 49 miles of State Highway 130 being built as a toll road and 12 miles of U.S. Highway 183A in Leander and Round Rock being built. RMAs can use revenue bonds, tolls, loans, grants and private equity to build, maintain or upgrade roads.
Mayor Timothy Hancock said that toll roads can be built, and it won’t necessarily be the only way to get around.
“When you build a toll road, you’re not getting rid of the other roads,” Hancock said, noting State Highway 130 as an example. “You have a choice.”
Councilman Kenny Wells said toll roads in Texas are becoming common.
“It’s apparent toll roads are part of our future,” Wells said.
Councilman Otis Evans said setting up an RMA would not pin any financial obligation on the city.
“These are the initial steps to start; I think now is a good time to start — it might be late,” Evans said.
The briefing was for information only. Green said a proposal could come later.
The council also talked about air travel. City Aviation Director John Sutton gave a presentation on the next phase of airport advertising. He said the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport will be working with Dynamic Design for the next advertising campaign.
“We want to continue to increase our passenger enplanements,” Sutton said.
The airport has budgeted $100,000 of its funds for advertising and plans to ask the Killeen Economic Development Corporation for another $150,000.
While the number of passengers in 2007 was an all-time high, Sutton said it is necessary to remind area residents that the airport is there. According to a survey, 55 percent of the passengers who used the airport lived in their current residence for less than three years.
Contact Kevin M. Smith at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7550