City moves forward with request to take over Loop 332
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
After a few years of off-and-on discussion about the future of Loop 332, the City Council decided Monday to move forward with a turnback request that would turn the road over to the City of Liberty Hill.
The vote was unanimous, 3-0, with Wendell McLeod absent from the meeting.
The Loop, currently a state road controlled by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), is at the center of a number city transportation projects — work that would involve much more time and coordination, as well as another level of approvals, while it is a state road.
“Throughout the process of looking at the different capital improvement projects, different ways we can improve the four-way downtown and all the other options, what keeps coming up is the need to do work on Loop 332,” said Pix Howell of Diversified Planning during a discussion of the proposal at a council meeting March 12. “In conversations with TxDOT, it became apparent that we need to take that off the state system for the city to have the capability to make improvements it wants to make.”
Spelling out the pros and cons of the request for council, Howell cited the ability to control parking along the road, modify intersections and other benefits to making the move.
“It mostly really has to do with the capability of the city to have control over everything from utilities, to speed limits to intersection improvements, etcetera,” he said. “One of the real pros in all of this is being able to negotiate with a developer or landowner that is wanting to do something along the roadway. Now you’d have the capability to do so because you control the access. It gives you a lot of freedom to do that.”
There was only one negative mentioned.
“The con is the obvious, now you are responsible for the operation and maintenance of that road long term,” Howell said.
The council has considered a similar request in the past, but never moved forward due to concerns about the cost of operation and maintenance and the up-front cost of preparing survey and deed research for the transfer.
Since that time, TxDOT has changed its policy and now it handles the survey and deed research, removing that cost from the equation.
Howell said TxDOT had also agreed to do some repairs and maintenance to the roadway prior to transfer.
Work planned includes addressing the road failure along the edge of the pavement in various sections, particularly near Liberty Hill Elementary School.
At the east end, TxDOT has agreed to do a complete overlay from the railroad tracks up to State Highway 29, adding a guardrail at Carl Shipp and the Loop.
“These repairs could be done by fall, so I’m guessing by October this could be done,” Howell said of the transfer.
The planned roundabout downtown, as well as plans for trails and a shared-use path heading in both directions from downtown to connect parks, will be much easier to plan and complete once the turnback is completed.
City Administrator Greg Boatright said TxDOT has committed $500,000 for work on the south side of the Loop 332 and SH 29 intersection as part of the county’s project at that intersection, and the turnback request would not jeopardize that plan.
Mayor Connie Fuller said the time was right and the situation was right to move forward with the request now.
“We didn’t have any money (before) and there was a lot of talk about how expensive it would be to maintain,” she said. “I believe the benefits today outweigh the costs, just to do the roundabout and do the trails, it would take so long to have to go through TxDOT to get them done.”
The city will be issuing a request for qualifications for initial engineering work for phases one and two of the Stubblefield Lane realignment.
The Council unanimously approved this first step Monday, and once submissions are received and reviewed by Diversified Planning, they will be brought back to Council for consideration and final approval.
“Preliminary engineering will hone in on the alignment better, down to parcels that need to be acquired to build that road,” Howell said. “That will be a major relief for the four-way in town. I think it will also open up some other opportunities along its right of way once you get south of town, in terms of commercial and residential.”
Once selected, the firm will focus on issues such as identifying the route with drainage, engineering specifications and detailed design work. This will allow the city to identify the specific route and needed right of way to acquire.
“This is a very important step in our overall transportation plan. It is phase 1 and 2,” Boatright said. “It is important for us to be able to protect the corridor for Stubblefield going forward and attain right of way when we have opportunities, because right of way is essential to this project.”
The plan is to go from Loop 332, across from the elementary school, southward to intersect with County Road 279.
Boatright added that as the transportation plan moves forward, the city will be looking for opportunities to attain right of way early to remain as economical as possible.
“It is a lot more economical for a city to buy bare land than to buy structures,” he said. “As we go forward, we will try as much as possible, as the funding allows, to go ahead and look at at least preliminary alignment of all the phases of the projects we will be undertaking so we don’t incur almost prohibitive costs going forward when we are acquiring right of way.”
The Council approved a bid for $96,882 from Alpha Paving of Round Rock to complete the downtown sidewalks project.
Ben Lake, with Steger Bizzell, presented the seven bids ranging from the Alpha Paving low bid, up to $184,231.50 on the high end.
The project is to complete the remainder of the sidewalks downtown that were not done with the city hall project.