Funds in doubt for State Hwy. 361 project
Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Area Engineer Martin Horst capped a 2 ½-hour open house at the Civic Center with a presentation to the city council on Thursday, Nov. 15, during which he pointed out that TxDOT has little money for new projects and is expected to put most of its funding into maintenance in the future.
The proposal to improve the socalled "Island Road" has been simmering since 2000. In 2003, when drawings were nearing completion, engineers pointed out that TxDOT hadn't allowed for drainage under the roadway and into wetlands lying west of the highway.
Since then, progress has been slow.
At the open house, held from 2-4:30 p.m. in the civic center, residents were given the chance to look at sketches showing what the highway might look like if it were taken to its ultimate build-out: Two lanes in each direction with a 16-foot center median and leftturn lanes at selected intersections. Sidewalks and bike lanes would also be added along some sections of the road.
But a TxDOT news release also cautioned that the project could go anywhere from a full-blown improvement as shown in the drawings to "no-build," meaning nothing would be done on the project.
According to the presentation, the level of support the highway now gives is classed as a "C," or "acceptable." Even if the two lanes and left-turn lanes were added, TxDOT figures that in 20 years, that level would drop to a "D," called "below acceptable." And if nothing is done - the so-called "no build" option - that would probably wind up as an "E," or "not acceptable" level.
Those ratings are based on traffic flows measured over the course of a year and averaged, with allowances made for heavy traffic times of the year, engineers said.
Construction was originally to have started on the project in 2004, but as recently as 2005, City Engineer Jim Urban came to the planning and zoning (P&Z) commission and the city council to ask them to urge TxDOT to continue planning the project. Unless something is done, Urban told the two bodies, the $8 million - which comes from a TxDOT discretionary fund - might be spent on something else.
P&Z commissioners and city council members agreed on a proposal that would make State Hwy. 361 two lanes with a center median in each direction as far south as Beach Access Road 1.
To put more cash into the improvement project, the city agreed to pay the costs of any additional drainage not included in the original plan.
Kovacs said this week that he is working with the TxDOT district office in Corpus Christi to get the project under way as soon as possible. However, he said any decision to withdraw the discretionary funding for such projects would be made at the TxDOT commission level in Austin and would affect similar projects statewide.