Bridge financing trade faces 'bumps' in road

By Lisa Treiber-Walter —

A deal Gillespie County Commissioners originally thought of as a “homerun” is still going to count as a win for local taxpayers, but not without a few financial bruises along the way.

Back in 2012, local officials agreed to an arrangement that would require Gillespie County to foot the bill for the replacement of one of its rural bridges, but, in return for fulfilling that investment, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) would pay for the replacement of five other outdated water crossings.

Within months, the county had forged ahead with its side of the bargain, constructing a replacement bridge on the Old San Antonio Road at the Barons Creek crossing.

When all was said and done, local taxpayers had paid $370,040 for the bridge’s completion to Austin-based contractor, Beck-Reit and Sons, Ltd.

“That bridge is done, TxDOT signed off on it and now the ball’s in their court,” said Larry Crump, county auditor.

With the county’s financial commitment fulfilled, the responsibility falls on TxDOT to replace the other five bridges located on Boos Lane, on Goehmann Lane, on the Old San Antonio Road where it crosses the Pedernales River and two on Kneese Road at its Palo Alto Creek crossings.

Bridge bargain?

Now at the start of 2014, TxDOT seems prepared to move ahead with at least the first two bridges in its lineup — fueled to some degree by federal funding.

But the federal dollars being passed through the state to the local scene bring with them a few strings in the form of unforeseen costs to local taxpayers.

The use of federal funding (even if passed through a state agency) requires the county to own — not lease or be granted for free — easements/rights-of-way from adjoining properties so that workers could properly access a construction site.

“Normally, we would just lease the properties,” Crump said. “But the reason we’re having to buy them now is because TxDOT is using federal grant money.”

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