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Drivers be wary as road projects progress

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Posted: Sunday, July 24, 2011 12:00 pm

By Andy Ross

Killeen Daily Herald

It was last summer when the Killeen City Council laid out its plan to issue roughly $30 million in bonds to fund a list of major road projects throughout southern and central portions of the city.

The projects - one example being the conversion of Stagecoach Road into a primary thoroughfare - are now moving forward at full steam following the council giving approval last month to issue a $32.4 million package of certificate of obligation bonds.

As opposed to general obligation bonds, certificates of obligation can be issued without voter approval, a fact that Killeen's leaders said has enabled the city to get projects off the ground while both construction costs and interest rates are favorable.

"No one can question that roads are a priority and need to be built," said Mayor Pro Tem Scott Cosper, chair of the city's transportation committee. "So the determining factor is do we move now and benefit from the savings and get these projects out and citizens on improved roads, or do we wait, knowing that when the economy comes back the cost of these projects will increase substantially."

The latest roadwork projects, combined with a previous list that began in 2004, make clear the priority Killeen has placed on advancing its transportation infrastructure.

But the costs associated with the work also are clear.

One by-product, for example, is the 4.78-cent tax hike the council approved last year.

Then there is the sheer dollar figures - well over $55 million in debt for roadwork alone issued in the past eight years. This figure includes the $32.4 million bond package and $23 million in general obligation debt issued in 2004, funds approved by voters in 2002 as part of a larger $69 million package.

Still, with the city's population climbing and traffic congestion increasing, Killeen's council members agree the work is vital.

"I was very much in favor of that $30 million road bond," Councilman Larry Cole said Friday. "If we don't do it now, it might be 20 years getting it done."

Councilman Billy Workman said he also was an advocate for the new roadwork, although he did indicate he has not always been in agreement on the priority given to certain projects. The planned extension of Lowes Boulevard from Florence to Trimmier, for example, should have been undertaken years ago, Workman said.

"We should move faster to get these things done," he said. "I went along with it in the end because it would improve traffic for the people."

Big picture

George Lueck is Killeen's director of transportation and said an over-arching goal behind the work is converting older county roads on the south side of the city into municipal-grade thoroughfares.

The estimated $15 million widening of Stagecoach Road, which will eventually take place from the Harker Heights city limits to State Highway 195, is one crucial piece of that plan, Lueck said.

Next week, bids will be opened for the first phase of the work, running from Harker Heights to East Trimmier.

Another example is work to upgrade Bunny Trail. The first phase of that project near the new Haynes Elementary School is already under way and a second phase is under design.

And then there is construction on portions of Cunningham Road, set to begin Monday.

The completion of Elms Road between SH 195 and Clear Creek Road and the extension of Lowes Boulevard are the remaining pieces of the latest roadwork plan funded through the $32 million bond package.

Both Lueck and Cosper stressed last week that the long-range goal is to create an outer loop around the southern edge of Killeen with numerous connecting routes to U.S. 190 that can alleviate congestion on high-traffic routes such as Trimmier Road.

The growth of neighborhoods in southern Killeen and new facilities, such the Texas A&M University-Central Texas campus, are big considerations, they said.

"The simplest way to relieve traffic is to add capacity to existing infrastructure, provide parallel capacity and provide what is basically some kind of outer loop," Lueck said.

Other projects

Looking beyond the work associated with the most recent bond package, two major projects on state roadways also are in the works.

The projects involve widening and interchange improvements at the intersections of state highways 201 and 195 as well as U.S. 190 and Rosewood Drive.

Excluding design costs, which will be funded by the city, the large majority of these projects' construction expenses will be reimbursed by the state through the Pass-Through Toll Revenue Financing Program. Traffic counts on the road help determine how the state reimburses the city, which will initially fund the projects.

The city has already issued a $18 million pass-through bond for the SH 201/SH 195 work.

The Rosewood Drive project, which will widen FM 2410 and create an overpass connecting it with Rosewood, is in the design phase.

The total cost for the Rosewood work is estimated at $30 million.

"It is very easy to underestimate the impact this is going to have on relieving traffic," Cosper said, referring to both projects.

Contact Andy Ross at aross@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7468.

City of Killeen road projects

Project Name Bond Package Estimated Cost Status

Highway 195/201 Overpass 2002 GO Bond $2.5 million Complete

Trimmier Road 2002 GO Bond $2.5 million Complete

Watercrest Road 2002 GO Bond $6.5 million Complete

Cody Poe & Edgefield 2002 GO Bond $2.5 million Complete

Robinett Road 2002 GO Bond $1.5 million Complete

Elms Road 2002 GO Bond $2.5 million Complete

Downtown Streets 2002 GO Bond $3.5 million Under Design

Rosewood Not issued yet $30 million Under Design

SH 195/SH 201 widening 2011 pass-through funding $15 million Bid

Cunningham Road 2011 CO Bond $3 million Under Construction

Stagecoach Road 2011 CO Bond $15 million Under Design

Bunny Trail II 2011 CO Bond $5 million Under Design

Lowes Boulevard 2011 CO Bond $3 million Under Design

Elms Road 2011 CO Bond $4 million Under Design

Source: City of Killeen

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