Waco-area highway projects worth tens of millions of dollars hinge on a decision Texas voters make Nov. 3.
Proposition 7 would allow the Legislature to dedicate a portion of the state’s general use and sales tax and motor vehicle tax to highway improvements, starting with an estimated $2.5 billion in 2018.
It would not raise taxes and it would not be dependent on oil and gas revenues as was Proposition 1, which passed last year.
Officials with the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization, which prioritizes state funding for McLennan County projects, said the Waco area could get $38 million in Proposition 7 funding over 2018 and 2019. That would enable them to start work on big-ticket projects that have long been delayed.
“The big problem is that there’s never enough money in the MPO allocation to do the scope of projects we’ve been considering,” said Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr., who sits on the MPO board. “I think Proposition 7 will help. I think it’s a fair tradeoff.”
The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce is encouraging voters to approve the measure, saying it would enhance transportation and economic development.
The MPO’s short list for Proposition 7 funds would include building a $32 million Speegleville Road overpass at U.S. Highway 84, along with widening State Highway 6 to four lanes westward to Farm-to-Market Road 185.
Or the first couple of years of funding could be used in a full-court press to get Interstate 35 widened through Waco.
The Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization discussed that possibility this summer and will discuss it again after the election. The I-35 project would cost $400 million, and state and federal governments have not yet identified funding sources for it.
Duncan said Interstate 35 is still the top priority, but it remains unclear whether deferring all the other needs to prime the I-35 pump would be necessary, or whether it would work.
“We need to know more about it,” he said.
Local transportation officials are looking at sacrificing most of their state funding for tw…
MPO director Chris Evilia said local transportation projects have suffered from dwindling state and federal support in the last decade. Some relief came with federal stimulus funds about five years ago and with last year’s Proposition 1.
Proposition 1 funds, which are pegged to surplus oil and gas revenue, helped fund the long-delayed expansion of China Spring Road as well as an overpass and frontage road at Highway 6 and Old Robinson Road.
The catch is that the Proposition 1 funds have to be spent in the year they are allocated, making it difficult to save up enough money for a project such as the $34 million Speegleville Road overpass.
“Without Proposition 7, that’s probably not going to happen,” Evilia said.
Evilia said the MPO board will likely decide on its priorities for Proposition 7 funding in January, around the same time state transportation officials release more details about how the program will work.
If voters approve the proposition and the Legislature approves the expenditures in 2017, major road construction could be under way in early 2018.
“When you add that with Proposition 1 dollars, we could get some pretty significant projects done,” Evilia said. “The combination of the two gives us quite a bit to work with. I wouldn’t call it a game-changer, but it allows us to get some projects off high-center.”