Mayor Morgan: Diversified funding sources key to transportation success

Mayor Craig Morgan pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.


MAYOR CRAIG MORGAN

There’s an old saying among municipal planners that the best time to build a road is 10 years before a study says you need it.

Transportation and traffic are big issues in Round Rock, and the solutions are never cheap and never seem to come fast enough. Our 2017 Transportation Master Plan determined we need $1.2 billion in new roadway capacity to accommodate growth over the next 20 years in the City of Round Rock.

The good news? We’ve been able to employ a variety of funding sources to make a real difference over the past several years and are looking at ways we can speed up our efforts to tackle this mammoth of a challenge.

In 1997, residents voted to assign a half-cent of our sales tax revenues, meaning 50 cents per $100 spent at City of Round Rock retailers, toward transportation. To date, that small portion of money spent by visitors and residents alike within our city has raised $293 million. That number wouldn’t be near as high without economic development efforts to bring businesses like Dell, Round Rock Premium Outlets, Emerson and IKEA – which bring huge sales activity to our community. By combining that $293 million with county, state and federal funds, we have completed $533 million worth of road projects.

This year, the City was able to secure $27.6 million in federal funding through our partnership with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) for three significant road projects: Kenny Fort Boulevard from Forest Creek to SH 45; University Boulevard from A.W. Grimes Boulevard to County Road 110; and Gattis School Road from Via Sonoma Trail to Red Bud Lane. These projects are estimated to cost $61.5 million altogether, meaning these dollars will help cover a third of the cost of these roads.

We enjoy a great working relationship with our state partners at TxDOT, which is critical considering an interstate runs right through our community. TxDOT has recently completed or is still constructing a total of five projects on I-35 in Round Rock that have a total cost of $73.5 million. The braided ramps south of U.S 79 and associated improvements alone are valued at $28.1 million. Now that’s some serious investment in our community!

We’ve certainly chipped in our share of City funding to tackle road concerns, and one of our biggest concerns is maintaining the roadway network we already have in place. We’ve invested roughly $25 million in neighborhood street maintenance over the past five years. For the new fiscal year, 71 percent of our 1.4 cent increase over the effective tax rate this year will go toward maintaining our residential roads.

As we look toward the future, we are investigating two additional sources of funding for road projects: traffic impact fees and certificates of obligation.

State law allows cities to issue either general obligation bonds, or certificates of obligation, to finance long-term public works projects. Certificates of obligation (COs) allow us to take advantage of favorable interest rates and get projects started on a shorter timeline than general obligation bonds, which could help us gain some ground on our transportation needs. 

The Council approved $28 million in COs in 2014 to help fund multiple projects that have since come to fruition: the Creek Bend Boulevard extension, improvements Downtown to Mays and Main streets, Phase 2 of Seton Parkway and Phase 2 of La Frontera street maintenance work.

The City is also currently evaluating Roadway Impact Fees, which are one-time costs assessed to new developments. This type of funding could be used to help accommodate growth across our entire transportation system in accordance with state law. Roadway Impact Fees are used by many cities across the state as a way to have new growth contribute to needed transportation system expansion.

The truth is there is no simple answer to our traffic problems. Addressing it takes a  combination of approaches and is something we will continue to seek creative solutions for moving forward. But one thing we have learned is that taking advantage of Round Rock’s unique, growing economy and maintaining regional partnerships will continue to be keys to our future success.