In 2004 the citizens of Rockwall County approved the issuance of $17 million in bonds to be used for road construction in the County. Then in 2008, the citizens once again approved a $100 million road bond issue, by over a 68% margin, for construction of roads in the county. (Full disclosure: this blogger was a member of the 2008 road bond committee that promtoed the $100 million road bond issue.)
Prior to the votes on these bonds the Rockwall County Road Consortium, a group comprised of of representatives from the County and each City in the county had developed a Master Transportation Plan that laid out all of the County road requirements. This plan addressed the needs of all the Cities and the County in terms of those roads that were either State or Federal roads; it did not address either City or County roads.
The logical question is “Why does the County and the Cities have to fund State and Federal roads?” There is a very simple answer. Do it or wait a long time for any new construction!
The total construction cost to implement the Master Transportation Plan was determined to be about $530 million. But it became very clear that the State or the Feds would not be in a position to allocate this type of money in any reasonable period of time for the construction of roads in our County.
The County had to find a way to provide an incentive for State funding or there simply would not be any roads built, even though the County was one of the fastest growing in the nation.
Far-sighted members on the Commissioners Court saw the advantage of creating one group, the Consortium, to represent the “County” requirements rather than each City having to “lobby” for their road construction money. This way one voice represented all of the requirements for the Master Plan.
The second aspect of the forward thinking was even more dramatic. Rather than going to the State “hat-in-hand” asking for money to build roads, the Consortium agreed that road bond elections would be held and if passed by the citizens, the State would then be approached for a “partnership” deal where the County would provide part of the money for the construction and then the State would provide matching funds. In this manner, the State would lower their cost and the County would be able to get faster allocation of State funds for roads in the County.
And that strategy has worked to the advantage of both organizations!
Currently, $52 million of the $117 million in bonds the citizens passed have either been spent or obligated to specific projects. Six major roads projects are either in construction or advanced engineering with specific completion dates.
John King Overpass, the first project funded through the Consortium, was completed in early September at a cost of $19.6 million. FM 740 North (Ridge Road going from Horizon Road in Rockwall to the Fulton School in Heath) will be completed in November at a total cost of $12.3 million.
The Irby Campbell overpass of I-30 just west of Royse City has started construction and is scheduled to be complete in November of 2014 at a cost of $20 million. Two other interchanges over I-30 are also scheduled: FM 3549 at a cost of $25.9 million with a completion in 2016 and FM 551 at a cost of $38.6 million also with a completion in 2016.
FM 740 South (Ridge Road from the Fulton school to down past the Heath City Hall) is funded at $11.3 million with a scheduled completion date of 2016.
And the funding algorithm is working. For a County expenditure of $52 million, we are getting $128 million in roads; and we are getting them now when they are needed while other parts of the State are still struggling to receive State funding dollars for roads.
Other road projects that currently are in the engineering phase here in the County but do not have a scheduled completion date or obligated funds include FM 3549 going from I-30 to SH 66 at a projected cost of $9 million, FM 549 South which will cost $20 million and go from SH 276 to SH 205 in Rockwall, and SH 276 going from SH 205 to FM 549 at a cost of $16 million.
Two major projects include FM 552 from SH 205 to SH 66 at a cost of $50 million and SH 66 that will go across the County from SH 205 to FM 1777 at an estimated cost of $150 million.
The Master Transportation Plan is currently being updated by the Consortium to include new projects submitted by the cities. Of the original plan, there is still about $200 million of projects that have not been funded. Cost estimates will be developed for the new approved projects and they will then be added to the Master Plan.
This method of funding for new roads is working in our County. Through the foresight of members of the Commissioners Court, the Cities, the North Texas Council of Governments, and the State, monies are being provided to build the roads that are needed to allow our County to continue on its fast growth path that has seen our population go from slightly over 6,000 in 1980 to over 80,000 today with a forecast calling for over 200,000 people to live in Rockwall County by the year 2030; 18 years from now.
Yes, I know, some people will find that road construction causes a lot of delays and frustrations when going to work or to the store for a bottle of milk. But if you REALLY want to see road problems, just go to Dallas, or LA, or Washington DC. We are fixing our problems before we get to where they are and all of our citizens are thanked for their patience and their vote on the bond issues that started this whole process.
Jerry Hogan is a retired US Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel who is currently County Judge of Rockwall County Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 214-394-4033.