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Buda planning for growth, transportation challenges
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Photo by Brett Thorne
Buda planning for growth, transportation challenges
Hays County officials expect to partner with the Texas Department of Transportation to add a center turn lane, shoulders and sidewalks to FM 967 in Buda.
On Feb. 19, Buda City Council adopted an update to its transportation master plan that officials hope will address the needs of one of the fastest-growing areas in Central Texas.
Between 2006, the last time the city had adopted a transportation plan, and the 2010 census, the city’s population grew 49 percent from 4,904 to 7,295. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, a regional transportation coordinating agency, estimates the city’s population will increase to more than 52,000 by 2035.
Buda’s transportation master plan uses data from the city’s comprehensive plan, the Hays County Transportation Master Plan, CAMPO, Capital Metro, the City of Austin and other entities to guide how long-range transportation needs will be addressed for cars, bikes, pedestrians and other modes of travel.
“It’s giving everybody the choice where, if they want to walk somewhere, they can,” Buda City Planner Chance Sparks said. “If they want to drive somewhere, they can. If they want to take public transit somewhere, they can.”
Residents were asked to rank the importance of different transportation issues during public input sessions to develop the city’s comprehensive plan in 2012.
The area that received the most attention was downtown Buda. Diverting semitrailer traffic from downtown was identified as “important” or “very important” by 93 percent of residents. Downtown traffic congestion and downtown east-west cut-through traffic were identified as important issues by 92 percent and 79 percent of residents, respectively.
The city’s solution to the first two issues is the truck bypass on Robert S. Light Boulevard. On Feb. 12, Hays County commissioners unanimously approved a partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation that would fund nine county road projects using savings accrued when other county road projects were completed under budget.
Precinct 2 County Commissioner Mark Jones said the nine projects’ $123 million price tag includes $10 million for the extension of the truck bypass from FM 967, its current dead-end, to FM 2770.
“Since the ’70s, they’ve been talking about getting the trucks out of downtown Buda,” Jones said. “That’s a huge piece of the puzzle.”
The partnership proposal is scheduled to be presented to the Texas Transportation Commission’s five-member board April 25, but Jones said the county is moving forward with the plans “at little risk.”
“We feel pretty confident that they’re going to accept our plan, and everything has been pretty positive,” Jones said. “The negotiations we’ve had with them have been very positive.”
In early April, the county awarded the contracts for design work on FM 2001 and FM 967 to Kimley-Horn & Associates Inc. and HDR Inc., respectively.
FM 967, which will be widened to three lanes with shoulders from I-35 to FM 1626, and FM 2001, which will be extended to Hwy. 21, could also receive funding under the partnership.
Whether or not those projects are funded through the partnership, a bond election might be in the city’s future. According to the transportation master plan, most of the $56 million in roadway improvements listed in the Buda Capital Improvement Plan “are anticipated to be financed by bonds that are not yet approved.”
Assistant City Manager Brian LaBorde said in the coming months, City Council would “definitely be discussing” a future bond election, but because the council is relatively new—four of the seven members joined the council after the November elections—there would not be any immediate action on the issue.
On the city’s east side, excavators and dump trucks are turning dirt, and construction workers are erecting house frames in the Sunfield neighborhood, which is planned to include 760 acres of commercial development in addition to recreation areas and schools.
According to population projections from CAMPO, Sunfield will be the most densely populated area in the city by 2035. According to the same projections, there were about 200 people living in the area in 2012. By 2035, there will be 24,057 residents in that area.
City officials expect the development to add 85,708 car trips per day to the surrounding roads by 2030. In order to mitigate the traffic effects and increase the surrounding roads’ capacity, the developer proposed $23 million in roadway improvements. Buda Mayor Todd Ruge said the improvements could be funded solely from the developer or in coordination with the county.
“It’s not on the city’s back,” Ruge said.
The planned improvements include expansions and extensions of Main Street, Firecracker Drive, FM 2001 and Turnersville Road.
Other areas of high growth include the Whispering Hollow, Garlic Creek and Elm Grove subdivisions, which are estimated to add more than 4,000 residents to the neighborhoods surrounding FM 967 on the city’s west side.
According to the plan, Buda’s status as a bedroom community for residents employed in Austin will be solidified in the next decade. City leaders are looking to address that trend by opening more entryways into Austin.
“There are just not that many options to get from Point A to Point B,” Sparks said. “It’s I-35 or I-35, so we’re looking for alternatives so we can address all of our growth.”
One of the major proposed connections to Austin is the extension of SH 45 SW from MoPac to FM 1626, which, if approved by Travis County commissioners, is scheduled for completion in 2025. The plan recommends the city “pursue commuter bus services through the advancement of a park-and-ride lot,” but getting service from Capital Metro, the primary transit agency in Central Texas, remains a challenge. The organization requires a 1 cent sales tax from participating cities, and Buda has already reached the state’s sales tax cap of 8.25 percent, so Sparks said the city is pursuing alternative funding options.
City leaders are looking at short-term solutions for connectivity to Austin until plans can be formulated and executed on large-scale projects such as SH 45 SW, commuter bus service and the Lonestar Rail. Two such solutions proposed under the transportation plan are Garlic Creek Parkway, which would connect FM 967 with SH 45, and an extension of Manchaca Springs Road, which would connect to FM 967.
For now, LaBorde, Sparks, City Engineer Stanley Fees and the new council must toe the line between planning for growth and maintaining the city’s highly prized “small-town charm,” LaBorde said.
The work on FM 967 provides a clear example of this dynamic.
Residents identified the two-lane road as a top safety concern during public input sessions, so plans were drawn up to expand it to a three-lane passage with bike lanes and sidewalks. Fitting the expanded road into a space that is bordered by aesthetically pleasing trees on one side and houses on the other is a challenge, and residents have voiced concerns over the trees’ destruction, LaBorde said. The city is taking steps to avoid cutting them down, he added.
“We don’t want to come through and wipe everything out,” LaBorde said. “That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to bring a context element back into [transportation].”