Grayson County took steps Tuesday to ensure motorists have quality infrastructure along U.S. Highway 75 for decades to come.
Commissioners approved issuing $10 million in bonds to leverage additional state funds for improvements to U.S. Highway 75. With these bonds, funding through the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Planning Organization and additional funding from the Texas Department of Transportation, the highway could see more than $168 million in improvements in the coming years.
The move by Grayson County leaders comes amid changes in TxDOT funding that favor projects that have local support and funding behind them.
“The thought that you can fund projects the same way as 30 years ago is misplaced,” Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said. “By using local tax dollars on local projects, we can leverage TxDOT funds and that is a smart move.”
When put to a vote, Magers and Commissioners Jeff Whitmire and David Whitlock voted in favor of the bond with Commissioners Bart Lawrence and Phyllis James absent due to a meeting in Washington D.C., Magers said. As issuing debt requires a super majority, Magers said commissioners will be required to ratify the decision next week. However, acting now will allow the county to lock in the favorable rates, he said.
Tuesday’s bond will cover the first of two expected phases of improvements to the highway and encompass several individual projects. Arguably the largest of these first-phase projects, in terms of cost, is a restructuring of the intersection of Hwy. 75 and U.S. Highway 82.
Previously, officials with the SDMPO said the project would include moving the ramps along the intersection and the construction of new lanes on the service road to help alleviate congestion. SDMPO Executive Director Clay Barnett said moving back the ramps and the additional lanes will allow traffic more time and space to maneuver when approaching the intersection.
Meanwhile, the city of Denison will see improvements to the intersection of Spur 503 when crews convert the intersection into a more conventional intersection with connections to the access road and new ramps. In the past, officials with Denison said this was an important access project for the city because of the development ongoing at the site on all four corners.
The third and final portion of the first phase will see improvements to what officials have described as “the gap” — a nearly four-mile stretch of roadway from FM 1417 to State Highway 91 that does not meet current interstate standards. As part of the project, the highway will be widened to six lanes, with continuous service roads along the length.
Future plans not included in this bond package include an extension of these improvements to the Morton Street intersection in north Denison.
Tuesday’s bond represents the first time in nearly 25 years that the county has issued debt for a project. The last time occurred in the early 1990s when Grayson issued bonds to help finance the county jail, Magers said. The county did issue bonds for work on FM 289, but Magers said those were pass-through funds and different than traditional bonds.
The county was able to get the bonds at an interest rate of 2.72 percent over the course of the next 10 years.
Magers noted the bond itself is closer to $9.4 million, and includes a premium of more than $500,000, bringing the funding to just under $10 million. Additionally, this will put the county’s debt service at less than 3 percent of its operating costs, Magers said.
“I think the message to Grayson County taxpayers is that we borrow $9.4 million, but got nearly $10 million,” Magers said.
This is likely to be the first of two bonds issued by the county in coming years. Magers said a second bond will likely be issued in about two years to resolve transportation concerns across the rest of Grayson County. The list of secondary projects includes many of the smaller communities, with price tags ranging from $1.8 million for a bypass along FM 902 to $5.98 million for improvements and a widening of FM 141 and FM 691.
With the secondary projects, Magers said the county is investing in future infrastructure, specifically east-west connectivity, in anticipation of upcoming growth in the region. While areas to the south have experienced growing pains in recent years with unprecedented growth, Magers said he wanted Grayson County to be ahead of the curve.
“I would like you to know over the past six months, Grayson County has put lines on the map,” Magers said.
Whitmire voiced some concerns over the changes that have occurred in recent years to how TxDOT allocates funds, and the need for communities to invest funds to get state dollars. For his part, Magers said by investing, local communities can show their interest in the projects and will be more likely to garner the support needed.