Dozens of officials and residents gathered Sept. 24 in Buda for the ground breaking ceremony for Hays County's longest road project, the widening and improvement of FM 1626.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Mark Jones welcomed guests, noting that the project has been in the planning stages for 10 years.
"It's a project that's a decade overdue, and we're very excited to get it started," Jones said. "A lot of y'all have been waiting for years to get this started, and I've heard a lot of times, 'I'll believe it when I see the dirt turning.' If you turn around, you'll see a big Cat behind you, so start believing."
County Judge Bert Cobb described the road as a major safety improvement for the county.
"I cannot help but think of all the people that have been injured and died in the last 10 years with this road not being built," Cobb said. "Thank you for your patience with us. We will all enjoy this road."
Jones described how the cost for the project has decreased since its first estimate of $23 million.
"When the county took this out as a bond, they pitched this to the voters as a $23 million project," Jones said. "When we did the engineer's estimate, it was about $20 million. When SEMA [Construction] came in as low bidder, they came in at about $17.1 million, so that's a lot of savings."
Russell Zapalac, chief planning and project officer for the Texas Department of Transportation, cited the roadway's importance to residents and drivers throughout the county.
"If there was ever a project that needed to be built, this was the project. Over the years, I've watched it become more and more congested, and I've had issues with safety, so I quit driving it," Zapalac said. "This process started 10 years ago. We struggled to find the funding. We struggled to work with the community. But we made it. We're there.
"A lot of folks have championed this project over the years. Hays County has been a great partner and continues to be a great partner," he said.
The project will be completed in two phases and is one of several being funded as part of a pass-through financing agreement between Hays County and TxDOT.
Pass-through projects are paid for by the county, which is then reimbursed by TxDOT.
FM 1626 currently is a two-lane rural roadway with limited or no shoulders and several low-water crossings. The widening and reconstruction of FM 1626 from FM 2770 to just south of Brodie Lane will be completed under two separate contracts managed by the county.
The first project, from FM 967 to just south of Brodie Lane, will begin with construction of a bridge over Little Bear Creek, followed by the addition of shoulders and sidewalks, and the expansion of the roadway to two lanes in each direction with a dedicated center turn lane.
The second project will include construction and improvements to the roadway from FM 2770 to FM 967.
Complete details and updates are available on the website for FM 1626, http://improve1626.com.