FLORENCE — Retired Army Lt. Gen. Chuck Graham still remembers how dangerous and cumbersome State Highway 195, once called the “Highway of Death,” was when he was on post during the Cold War. The road was the most direct route available to ports like Houston, where troops could be quickly deployed to overseas conflicts.
“That’s why we wanted to get it widened, and the other part of the story was that soldiers got killed out here,” Graham said, referring to the numerous drunken driving accidents that occurred on the road.
Officials broke ground Friday on the last 6.8-mile segment of the State Highway 195 project.
The final segment begins about 3 miles south of State Highway 138 near Florence and stretches to Ronald Reagan Boulevard in Georgetown.
The $92 million project is slated to be completed spring 2016. The project will turn the highway into a four-lane road and includes an overpass at Ronald Reagan Boulevard.
“The first time I was introduced to this highway was when my son was playing seventh-grade football,” said U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, at the groundbreaking site. “We got a letter from the high school saying, ‘Tell your children do not drive down 195 because it’s too dangerous’ ... (the construction project) is a gift to families both of our warriors and our kids and grandkids.”
Narrow lanes, tree overgrowth and drunk drivers made the road one of the deadliest in Central Texas, especially with soldiers driving to and from Austin for the weekend, Carter said.
Because the road doubles as a deployment route, officials were able to allocate both local and federal money for the project.
The increase in available funding was fortunate, said Williamson County Commissioner Valerie Covey. The last portion of the project was delayed because the highway endangered the federally protected status of two bug species that live in caves beneath the road. In order to comply with federal regulations and continue construction, Williamson County purchased a cluster of caves that are home to the bugs, Covey said.
The caves cost more than $1.1 million and federal funds were used to cover 75 percent of the ticket price, according to official documents.