As a lifelong resident of Central Texas I have seen the incredible population increase since the late 1970s. Despite the economic bust of the late 1980s and the burst of the high-tech bubble in the early 2000s, people just kept moving here. No wonder, it’s a great place to live and work.
But that won’t always be true if there aren’t enough roads for commuting and for quick, efficient transportation of products. Good transportation is integral to economic development. That’s what more than 125 community and business leaders, along with numerous elected officials, heard from regional transportation officials Wednesday. Bluebonnet organized the meeting at the Bastrop Convention Center as part of our ongoing emphasis on regional economic development.
Many of the eight speakers talked about how Central Texas’ population will increase by more than 50 percent during the next 25 years, which calls for more and better roads. But in the short term, state and federal highway funding will struggle just to keep up with maintenance costs, much less pay for new construction.
Greg Malatek, deputy district engineer of the Texas Department of Transportation, ran down the list of many road projects planned in the area for the next few years, but noted that a lack of funding will keep the state focused more on maintaining current roads than adding new roads or expanding existing ones.
“To hear that the Texas Department of Transportation is in maintenance mode is chilling,” said Mark Rose, Bluebonnet’s general manager. “This part of Texas can’t prosper on this level of (highway) maintenance alone. We must have available transportation to encourage economic development. It all comes back to funding.”
Public-private partnerships and regional mobility authorities are working to build much-needed new roads, Rose and several speakers said. For example, State Highway 130 is the state-owned toll road that runs through Bluebonnet’s service area in Williamson, Travis and Caldwell counties. It is operated by the SH 130 Concession Company, which is co-owned by Spain-based Cintra, one of the world’s largest private-sector transportation developers, and San Antonio-based Zachary Construction. SH 130, intended as an alternative to traffic-packed Interstate 35, will bring major economic growth to the co-op’s service area.
The 90-mile toll road will stretch from I-35 near Georgetown east, then south to I-10 near Seguin when complete. Sonny Brown, vice president of business development for State Highway 130 Concession Company, said the toll road is expected to be complete by fall, 2012.
Another example is the Manor Expressway being built from U.S. Highway 183 to east of Parmer Lane. The six-mile road will have toll lanes and toll-free frontage roads, and will triple the current capacity of U.S. Highway 290.
Those are just two of the major projects discussed at Wednesday’s meeting that will improve transportation and encourage economic development in Bluebonnet’s service area. In the next few weeks I will post some other interesting facts and information about transportation, population growth and economic development in Central Texas that were discussed during the event.
Bluebonnet will continue to organize regional transportation meetings and other events to promote economic development in Central Texas. For more information on Bluebonnet’s regional economic development initiative, go to bluebonnetregion.com. Or keep checking this blog or follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more information about upcoming meetings and other events.