While construction on south FM 1626 between FM 2770 and RM 967 progresses, county officials don’t anticipate work to be done before Hays CISD students return to campus in mid-August.
Officials are now pushing the contractor of the project to expedite improvements, which are now roughly six months behind deadline.
Mark Jones, Hays County Pct. 2 Commissioner, said during the July 10 Buda Area Chamber of Commerce (BACC) Luncheon that the contractor of the project had “liquidated damages” that had occurred. In June, the county shifted traffic on FM 1626 from the west to the east side of the road to start the next phase. He added the county must keep two lanes open at all times as it’s the only way the project can get done, despite some “inefficiencies.”
Jones said $2,500 is being paid by the contractor every day the project isn’t done, which he hopes is enough incentive to finish it. The contractor estimated fixes to the western part of the road will not take as long, with the entire project slated to be done by late 2019.
However, concerns are rising as traffic along south FM 1626 is increasing due to growth. In addition to several new businesses popping up along the roadway, Hays County must also deal with school-related traffic that will increase in August
Jones said he didn’t think the work on FM 1626 would affect people getting in or out of new businesses along the road, including a new Starbucks.
“The traffic is so tight there right now, people aren’t going that fast there,” Jones said. “The biggest thing slowing traffic down in the morning is people letting people in and out of those things. It’s not going to be hard to get in and out because people are generous of people coming in and out.”
Improvements on FM 1626 is a multi-jurisdiction effort, which includes the city of Austin and Travis County, aimed at widening FM 1626 to a five-lane road from the Interstate 35 access road south of Austin to Kyle. The entire widening project is estimated to be completed by 2022.
Jones said improvements to FM 1626 has been in the works for roughly two decades.
“Because of the environmental processes and working with state roads and agencies, it takes longer for these projects to get off the ground,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, the county is waiting for the Texas Department of Transportation to go through its advanced funding agreement process before any work begins on adding turn lanes to RM 967 from Dahlstrom Middle School to near Ruby Ranch.
As a result, turn lanes won’t be in place when Johnson High, Hays CISD’s third comprehensive high school located on RM 967, opens next month. The issue is the difficulty of getting “anything out of TxDOT” due to understaffing issues within that organization, Jones said. It’s unknown at this time when work could begin on the turn lanes.
Hays County has had that portion of the RM 967 project ready to go for approximately six months.
But Jones said traffic woes “can’t get any worse” on RM 967, even when Johnson High opens. With the campus housing 9th and 10th grades only in 2019, Jones said many students will not be driving to school.
Congestion caused by elementary school, middle school and rush hour commuters is expected to dissipate as high school students head to class.
“It will be like what is in front of Hays High on some days, but it’s not going to be as bad as what we think it’s going to be, I’m hoping,” Jones said.