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2013-11-14

Are sidewalks in Bandera's future?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The City of Bandera Planning and Zoning Commission began planning for a sidewalk project during a meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 8.
James Lutz of Pape-Dawson Engineering, Inc. gave a rudimentary overview of the proposed project. Boasting 320 employees, the civil engineering firm is one of the largest in San Antonio with projects ranging from SeaWorld of Texas and Six Flags Fiesta Texas through the Hyatt Hill Country Resort to La Cantera Resort and the Quarry Market Place, among others.
Engineers with Pape-Dawson would assist the city develop sidewalk improvements to enhance pedestrian movements along Main Street.
According to P&Z Chairman Tony Battle, any project - large or small - would be divided into several stages and necessitate a detailed master plan. It would, he admitted, be "drawn out" over several stages would include designs by Pape-Dawson then solicitations for funding. "The EDC has included a line item in their budget (for preliminary work)," Battle said.
Because of a work commitment, Battle was unable to present a review of Pape-Dawson's preliminary proposal to directors of the Bandera Economic Development Corporation during the October meeting. Before approving the funds needed to jumpstart the project, EDC directors indicated they wanted to hear Battle's presentation.
During the P&Z meeting, Lutz explained that a viable sidewalk system must relate to commerce and connectivity and offer a "welcome-to-the-community" feeling. A complete system, he said, would not only include sidewalks, but also trees, pavers and benches, as well as coordination with traffic movement and the existing signal system. "Coming up with a plan can be as complicated or simple as you want," Lutz told P&Z.
He also emphasized the importance of involving stakeholders in the preliminary process. "Before we get out of the gate, you have to bring stakeholders to the process and get their input during lots of meetings," Lutz said.
Above all, however, he stressed, "You must have an agreed-upon plan in place before going out for funding." Lutz said the federal government often funds these types of Main Street projects. He expected funding from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for a Bandera project to be available in six to 18 months.
Lutz emphasized that to secure funding, the project must have strong community support, as well as "a plan that follows the TxDOT process and federal guidelines."
Following federal guidelines means that Pape-Dawson cannot shepherd the sidewalk project to its completion. As Lutz explained, "We can get you to the starting gate then we must pull out and you have to follow the acquisition process. We can't be involved in certain parts of the project." He added, "If you don't follow the rules, you won't get the funding."
Lutz also noted the importance of adhering to the TxDOT rights-of-ways for construction of sidewalks and ramps - and "following the process. You also must have a master plan so everyone will know what you want to build for this town. They have to know, 'Is this the direction we want to go'?"
Battle ceded that some items would probably be contentious, especially if business owners believe sidewalk construction would cause lost customers and parking spaces. "They should see the benefit down the road," Battle said optimistically.
Lutz estimated it would take three years for the sidewalk project, which includes the master plan, grant application and funding processes and construction, adding, "You must be patient to get through the red tape." He also reiterated, "You have to follow the process if you want federal funding."
After speculating that funds for the project would be 80 percent federal and 20 percent city, Lutz noted, "But you don't know what you'll get or what the next hurdle will be." Advocating that money be earmarked for the sidewalks up front, he urged, "Plan for the money it's going to take to get you there."
According to Battle, EDC had budgeted $12,000 for a preliminary sidewalk project plan. He said $8,000 would be used for a needs assessment to include two meetings with the EDC, development of a typical section of a sidewalk corridor and a sample plan view illustrating potential developments to Main Street. He also indicated that discussions with EDC and layouts would be used to develop a preliminary cost estimate for the sidewalk project.
An additional $4,000 would pay for the Stage II action plan and identification of funding sources. That phase would include two meetings with TxDOT to discuss potential project funding and implementation of the proposed project's design and construction. "We would meet with TxDOT to determine how to move forward," Battle said. Stage II would also include environmental and public involvement concerns.
Other stages of the project, as yet unfunded, include developing a federal fund grant application for the city, consultant procurement, a schematic design, development of plans specification and cost estimates, bid project and finally sidewalk construction.
EDC funding, Battle said, would be used to "get the wheels in motion," which will occur after he brings the sidewalk plan proposal before EDC at a future meeting.