New Council nixes roundabout
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
A week after failing to halt Liberty Hill’s ongoing capital improvement projects and settling for a planned workshop to discuss the projects before taking action, the Council voted to terminate the contract for the downtown roundabout.
On a motion made by Council member Liz Rundzieher, following an 80-minute executive session, the Council voted 3-2 on Monday to end the project. Council members Ron Rhea and Tony DeYoung voted no.
“I believe we have more important issues with our streets and drainage we can spend the money on instead of on this right now,” Rundzieher said before making her motion.
The reason the issue was brought back to the Council ahead of a public workshop to discuss projects and their prioritization was the pending construction contract for the roundabout, which had already been signed by the contractor. The majority of Monday’s meeting was in closed session with legal counsel.
“It was just so we could discuss with our legal counsel since the contract hadn’t been signed and make sure from a legal standpoint that we were okay to do what we just did without having any kind of legal ramifications,” Hall said. “The (workshop) is still going to happen. Last week when we made the decision to do that the contract hadn’t been given to us yet for this project. The contract was brought to us Friday morning so that’s when I talked to our legal counsel.”
Hall said the City has no liability regarding the terminated contract, aside from any possible expenses on the contractor’s side in preparing for the project, which Hall said would be minimal.
The construction contract for the roundabout was awarded in early April to Smith Contracting Company for $1.372 million. The City only received one bid on the project, but it came in under the original estimate from project engineer Steger Bizzell, which was $1.56 million. The vote was 3-1 with Rundzieher opposing the measure and Rhea, and then-Council members Liz Branigan and Troy Whitehead voting in favor.
The City has spent nearly $389,000 on land acquisition and engineering for the roundabout project, which had been discussed by staff and the Council dating back to 2017.
The debate among Council members boiled down to where on the list of priorities the roundabout should be, and whether it was a true traffic issue or one for aesthetics alone.
For those who voted to terminate the contract, basic road maintenance and drainage remedies were the focus.
“We currently have some issues in the City that are not being addressed,” said Council member Steve McIntosh. “The street quality, as Liz (Rundzieher) said the drainage issues, we’ve got water and sewage issues, we’ve got folks dropping bobbers in the holes in the concrete as a joke on social media.”
Everyone on the Council voiced a measure of support for completing the roundabout at a future time.
“I think the project is a wonderful project when you prioritize it as a project that needs to be done at some point, but not in front of things the City really needs at this point and it’s my firm belief that we address those issues first and then we take on these other aesthetic type issues,” McIntosh said.
Safety was the primary focus for supporting the roundabout for DeYoung.
“Walking downtown to the festival (Saturday) I was seeing people coming up from Leander and they are trying to negotiate that stop, then families trying to cross the street, trying to negotiate who is going first, and with the splash pad coming I think it is also a
safety issue and that’s a rough corner,” DeYoung said. “This will work, and I’m all for it right now as more of a safety issue.”
Hall argued that the roundabout was more of an aesthetics issue because there had not been many accidents and no deaths at the particular intersection.
The aesthetics of the downtown was an area Rhea believed shouldn’t be downplayed.
“Don’t forget the aesthetics of the Veterans Park, don’t forget the aesthetics of the Fowler Building,” Rhea said. “This is a gateway, and aesthetics is not just flowers or something that’s out there, it actually brings people into the community downtown. The aesthetics are very important in representing Liberty Hill.”
He also argued that none of these plans were new or issues that had not been planned or discussed and added that canceling projects could eventually lead to a lesser bond rating as the City tries to borrow money in the future.
“We have been well managed, and we’ve got a City Manager here for the last five years who has been managing the City very well,” Rhea said. “We didn’t get here by accident. We didn’t get here last year, we didn’t get here six months ago. We got here from four years of us doing hard work and managing the City properly.”
But the three votes in favor of terminating the contract continued to focus on shifting priorities elsewhere.
“I think the majority of the populace really don’t necessarily think this is on the top of our priority list,” said Council member Gram Lankford. “There are a plethora of other things that should come before this.”
And McIntosh reiterated that basic services he felt were not being met should come first.
“As far as I’m concerned, the optics on this are outrageous,” he said. “We’ve got families that have water in their front yards when it rains because of the way that whole neighborhoods have been improperly engineered for drainage and the roads are another issue. We have a responsibility to provide basic services to people and what I’m saying is yes the roundabout is a nice idea and maybe in the future we can move forward on it, but we’re not meeting our basic obligations here and that’s really the bottom line.”
Hall called the roundabout a great project for after all of the road problems of concern to citizens are addressed.
“I think this project, even though it fits in our transportation plan we’ve got out there, we have not only transportation but drainage and parking and all that to do, I think there are other projects as a Council that we are obligated to the citizens for that are paying the tax notes to make sure we are doing things in a timely manner,” Hall said. “I personally have a hard time answering to the constituents out there when we’re building a roundabout project when, as Steve (McIntosh) mentioned earlier, you’ve got places in some of our streets right now that they are out fishing and putting it on social media because the road conditions are that bad. It’s not just one or two roads, it’s all over our city.”
He said a more specific list of more important projects would be coming to the Council soon.
“I think for the Council meeting next week you will see another item on there with specific projects in mind that we’re going to stop and look at before we’re going to proceed with them,” Hall said. “It is not a complete list of everything because there are some things we have to get done and we don’t want to impact that, but there are certain projects that haven’t been started yet that we’re going to look at more in-depth.”
How projects will be evaluated and prioritized was a question for Rhea.
“If we are going to prioritize, then we need to find what street is going to be first and what street is going to be second and look at that from the staff that we have,” Rhea said. “I’m not saying that Facebook doesn’t have any relevance, but I wouldn’t want to run the City by what people put on Facebook, so why don’t we have City staff come up with supporting data so we can vote. I just can’t vote on a whim or a feeling.”
Hall replied that the planning workshop would be the right place for that discussion.
“I think that’s where that planning meeting comes in so we can put all of our heads together and say what’s all the projects we have to do and just start saying one, two, three, four, five and just go down the list,” Hall said. “A lot of them are street and drainage and we can put them all together in one big project and do them all at one time.”