Wednesday, March 09, 2005

TOP STORY>> Overpass faces money hurdles, uncertainty on area annexation

IN SHORT: Federal money to build a railroad overpass in Cabot could become available this year, but the city would need between $600,000 and $800,000 for matching funds. Compli-cating matters is the possibility that Austin might annex a part of the area near Hwy. 367 and Hwy. 38, where the overpass would go up.

Leader staff writer

Federal money to build a railroad overpass near Cabot’s industrial park could be available this year, but construction would depend upon whether Cabot comes up with its 20 percent match for the estimated $3 million to $4 million project.

The city has about $250,000 set aside for the project, but another $350,000 to $550,000 would be needed, according to officials with Metroplan, which will dispense the federal funds to pay the balance.

The rest could be borrowed, according to Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh, but whether city officials are willing to do so could depend upon whether a planned subdivision is annexed into Cabot or Austin.

If the annexation goes to Austin, Stum-baugh says it’s only fair that Austin pay for part of the construction of the railroad overpass.
Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain says she knew the project was on the horizon, but she didn’t know it could possibly be funded this fiscal year. She hasn’t talked to Stumbaugh about Austin paying for part of the overpass, she said. But she points out that the subdivision hasn’t been annexed yet and she says she wonders, “If it stays in the county, are they going to ask the county to pay a part?”

Several members of the Cabot City Council, who briefly discussed the overpass Saturday morning during a finance committee meeting, were dubious about the possibility of starting the project this year. The question of borrowing money did not come up.
Construction of the overpass is scheduled for 2008, not 2005, they said. And the city can save the money by 2008, end of discussion.

Jim McKenzie, executive director of Metroplan, the planning and distributing agency for federal highway project money, said he has talked to Stumbaugh and is aware of his reluctance to pay for an overpass that will increase the value of property that will likely become part of another city.

“I can understand if Cabot is reluctant to pay for something that will increase Austin’s tax base,” McKenzie said.

The subdivision is one of three that might go to Austin rather than Cabot because of the cost of tying onto Cabot sewer. Austin officials say their city must grow or risk being swallowed up by Cabot and bringing in three subdivisions with a total of 500 homes would be a good start. They told the developers last summer that they would work with them on connecting to the Austin sewer.
Cabot will not pay any of the cost of connecting to Cabot sewer.

The overpass will run through Cabot’s industrial park on Highway 367, connecting Highway 367 to Highway 38 near Northside Middle School.

Eventually, the overpass could become part of an $11 million interchange connecting to U.S. Highway 67-167 on Highway 5.
McKenzie said the Cabot project is one of 12 railroad overpasses that have been identified as priorities for several years.

Whether the federal money for the Cabot project is available this year will depend upon whether the cities that were ahead of Cabot on that priority list are able to come up with their 20 percent match, he said.

If they do, the Cabot project won’t be funded, he said.

“Right now, we’re just doing a status check,” he said.