(Editor's note: This article has been updated to include the title of Grayson County Judge Bill Magers.)
Grayson County is planning to put a focus on improvements to U.S. Highway 75 in order to leverage more money from the Texas Department of Transportation.
Grayson County Engineer Clay Barnett outlined to the County Commissioners Tuesday a 10-year list of roadwork projects, which the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Planning Organization will submit to the Texas Transportation Commission. The list includes $253 million in improvements with much of it focused on Highway 75.
“TxDOT wants to spend money on (Highway) 75, so if we can spend a little money on 75 and partner with them, we feel like it increases our chances of getting the discretionary funding,” Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said.
A focus of the Texas Transportation Commission, Barnett said, is to get the portion of Highway 75 between FM 1417 and State Highway 91 up to interstate standards, so eventually they can begin to ask for interstate status. So the second scenario hones in on the southern portion of the highway in order to give the best chance of success. As a result, about 63 percent of the funding will go to projects in Sherman, but the funding across the board is increased.
“I don't want to be overly optimistic, but I think our odds are good that they'll fund this plan,” Barnett said. “Anything less than this, they're just not going to consider.”
The local match from the county will translate to about $5.5 million, Magers said, so about half a million each year for the next 10 years.
“There's a lot of moving parts to this at this point, but the key thing is our county, our region has an opportunity to gain a $100 million in found money by doing a few things,” Magers said.
With the growth approaching from the south, Magers said the county and local communities have the opportunity to plan for it and take a step in the right direction.
“This an investment — there's a big difference in spending tax dollars and investing in the future, and to me, we as a group have a responsibility to look down the road and make the proper investments for this community,” Magers said.
The SDMPO board recently approved the list ahead of the Feb. 23 submission deadline, which the state required MPOs to submit a 10-year transportation plan with project recommendation and prioritization criteria. Barnett, also the SDMPO executive director, went over two scenarios with the commissioners: a $140 million plan and the approved $253 million plan.
The state distributes funds based on 12 different categories with different allocations. Category 12 is discretionary funding distributed by the Texas Transportation Commission, and that category has nearly $10 billion not yet allocated. So the second plan seeks to leverage more funding by better meeting certain criteria set by the state.
“The state is not going to allocate all of that in February and March, they're going to hold on to some of that until August,” Barnett said to the commissioners. “What they have said is they are going to release $900 million for smaller sized MPOs for this March update, so there's a potential for $900 million.”
Barnett said the plan asks for $98 million from category 12 funding, and the commission basically outlined an option that if the MPO paired different funding categories with a local match on certain projects would lead to a better chance of gaining the category 12 funding. Projects to improve U.S Highway 75 in Grayson County were identified as good candidates for this assistance.
The first scenario was based upon the 25-year list of projects the SDMPO already created without the discretionary funding, and the second list is going through and identifying projects on Highway 75 that they can ask the state to fund, Barnett said. So the second plan seeks to leverage about $110 million more from the state. But to leverage that funding, about $14 million will need to be matched locally over the 10 year period.
“We have $140 million — we have that allocated to us, and we can go spend that,” Barnett said. “We don't have to ask anybody for anything — we don't have to come up with any local match — just go build out the projects and move on about our business. But we do have the opportunity to go to the commission and ask for $110 million. That's the opportunity that we have. That's what it boils down to is how can we best position ourselves to get funding.”