New Braunfels has developed an insatiable appetite for mobility – and satisfying it has become a never-ending process.
“Six thousand people moved to New Braunfels last year, and we’re likely to see the same growth,” Mayor Barron Casteel said. “That’s not something we’re encouraging, it’s just occurring.
“But if we don’t plan for it, and don’t attempt to invest in infrastructure, then we’ll end up devaluating what we have here.”
Adding streets and fixing streets rated tops in each survey of city residents since 2012. But along with improving major arterials – Loop 337, State Highway 46 and Interstate 35 – there’s been an increasing desire to add and improve sidewalks and quality-of-life amenities.
But it starts with streets. After voters in 2013 overwhelmingly approved spending more on improving vehicular mobility, it led to partnerships and additional sources that since funded a variety of mobility projects throughout the city.
“Everyone has a neighborhood street that needs repair and maintenance, and without it they will continue to degrade and in the future cost us more to repair,” Casteel added. “That is what the 2013 bond was all about.”
What the 2013
“In 2013 the community voted on making a set of investments for the years ahead. It became a contract between the citizens and the city,” Casteel said.
The $86 million bond doubled the city’s amount spent on yearly street repairs from $500,000 to nearly $1.8 million. The $120 million 2019 bond, if approved May 4, would add another $1 million annually for neighborhood streets.
The passage of Propositions 1 and 7 led to increased state funding for state highways – including Loop 337, a project that already had the right-of-way. In 2015, the city had to come up with $5 million in matching funds toward the $45-million expansion.
“We didn’t have the ability to borrow money because we’d just committed to $86 million in bond projects,” Casteel said.
ASA, future developer of the $1.5-billion Veramendi project north of Loop 337, contributed $2.5 million; the New Braunfels Economic Development Corp. (4B Board) added $1.5 million, and Comal County pledged $1 million.
“Those partnerships were critical,” Casteel said. “By not issuing $5 million more debt, it gave us the capacity to have the 2019 bond – which gives the citizens the vote on Klein Road, Conrads/Goodwin lanes, and $15 million in street improvements.”
The 2013 bond led to hundreds of improvements on streets through 2018; between 15 and 20 would be improved during the first year of the 2019 bond.
The city ranks local street improvements according to merit. Those serving the most vehicles in the most traveled parts of the city rate the highest for rehabilitation – such as mill, overlay, asphalt and re-striping – and reviews reset maintenance priorities each year.
The 2013 bond also helped expand city pedestrian programs. More pedestrian improvements, facilitated through the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization are on the way.
Sidewalks, ramps, crosswalks and signage are planned in four city areas: McQueeney Road from Briarbend to Northpark Ridge; along Howard Street, between Walnut Avenue extending past Seele Elementary to Landa Park; West San Antonio Street between Walnut and Academy Avenue, and South Walnut, from the Interstate 35 frontage road south to Gardenia Drive.
“The city has placed improvements for motorists and pedestrians as a priority,” Casteel said. “We’ve got kids walking to school, parents picking them up and all of the other demands on citizens and families operating on streets throughout our community.”
Partnerships and special districts
Major improvements are bond-funded. The city’s 2019 proposal includes allotments for Goodwin/Conrads lanes ($21.4 million) and the second phase of Klein Road expansion ($13.5 million). It would also begin projects helped by partnerships, such as the extension of Barbarosa Road (Farm-to-Market Road 306) past FM 1101 to Alves Lane ($7.2 million); and a north-south collector ($6.6 million) linking into the Creekside area from Business 35.
All will also be funded with roadway impact fees, but City Engineer Garry Ford said the city is working with developers and commercial interests who could fund engineering reports and purchases of right of way for other projects.
“We’re working with a developer on Hanz Road, which would be a brand new roadway,” Ford said.
District 5 Council Member Wayne Peters said such a partnership would be beneficial in establishing the north-south collector.
“It would extend into a commercial area, and we’d look forward in partnering with developers and other interests there,” Peters said.
Other partnerships, including those with the 4B Board and Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, have led to major mobility improvements that sparked economic development throughout the city.
“The Landa Street improvements; citywide pedestrian projects; Loop 337; again they both stepped up,” Ford said.
Casteel added: “They play a huge part. They always bring in the players – long ago they promoted good planning, which is a major reason that Loop 337 is paying off.
“These investments and strategies we’re using as a community – sometimes they don’t pay off until much later in life, but we can see it in Loop 337.”
Infrastructure created through special zoning
Earlier this year the city approved its first public improvement district and with the county expanded an existing tax increment reinvestment zone. Both will fund future infrastructure in the growing Creekside area.
The Solms Landing/New Braunfels Co-Op Public Improvement District includes a $200 million mixed-use community at FM 306 and I-35. PIDs are financing and economic development tools enabling Texas cities and counties to fund private infrastructure improvements by issuing bonds repaid by developers through tax revenues with the districts.
The city and Comal County voted to expand the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone established for Town Center at Creekside developers in 2007. Tax revenues paid through a TIRZ also help fund surrounding infrastructure; Phase II of the TIRZ will add residential and retail space at the site near FM 483 and FM 1101, and add new streets, expand existing streets and create the city’s seventh fire station.
AAMPO, TxDOT funding
The AAMPO and Texas Department of Transportation have been major players in local funding. Before joining the AAMPO in 2014, the city relied on TxDOT funding that mainly went toward arterial improvements.
Ford said TxDOT funding – matched by the city and county – served as the main driver toward improving State Highway 46, FM 306 between I-35 and Hunter Road, and the most recent I-35 expansion through town 20 years ago.
“We had the enhancement program, which delivered funds every few years,” Ford said. “But the MPO became a new funding opportunity that we’ve been able to go through and we’ve been successful. It does require a match from the city – some money for development and 20 percent toward construction.”
The AAMPO distributes state and federal dollars for regional transportation projects in Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe and parts of Kendall County. Linda Alvarado-Vela, AAMPO planning and public involvement program manager, said New Braunfels’ ability to exceed matching funds is a large reason behind its success in drawing state and federal project funding.
“What New Braunfels has been able to do in a lot of cases is provide an overmatch – which exceeds the 20 percent,” she said. “In our call for projects, we gave additional points to those projects from cities and counties that can add more of a match.
“When you’re in a competitive environment, where there are multiple projects seeking a small pool of funding, you can use every edge it takes to win – and New Braunfels has been one of those communities that has been very effective in the use of overmatches to win funding.”
The city’s $94,000 match led to $400,000 in AAMPO funding for traffic signal improvements, one of several such projects scheduled to begin this fiscal year. TxDOT funded $4 million to widen and expand the San Antonio Street Bridge over the Comal River, which begins construction following the river recreation season.
“TxDOT will go out for bids in May, and work is scheduled to start right after Labor Day,” Peters said. “The city won’t pay anything toward it, and we like that.”