"The tollway to nowhere, courtesy of our commissioners."

Williamson's plans for highway causing small uproar

Officials say they are trying to prepare for expected growth.

By Ben Wear, Austin American-Statesman

GEORGETOWN — Adolph and Barbara Supak have plans for the land they live on west of Georgetown, 390 gorgeous, rolling acres in two large parcels tucked between Texas 29 and forks of the San Gabriel River.

At some point, their notion is to sell off some of the valuable land alongside the five-lane highway, a thin strip on the westerly parcel where someone might build stores or a restaurant. But behind that frontage, among the oaks, creeks and stock ponds where generations of Barbara Supak's family ranched and where the Supaks have lived for three decades, the plan is to sustain the Hill Country for their children and grandchildren to enjoy.

Williamson County, anticipating rapid growth from Georgetown to Liberty Hill, also has plans for that area. Big plans.

The county in a few weeks, after the completion of an initial $2.4 million engineering study of potential routes, will announce its preferred path for what would be a six-lane expressway (with up to six frontage road lanes alongside) on the Texas 29 corridor from just west of Georgetown to the Burnet County line a few miles past Liberty Hill. Those 12 potential lanes would require an Interstate 35-sized swath of right of way: 400 feet, more than triple the 120 feet the state owns on Texas 29 now.

Most of the route, if not all of it, will probably follow Texas 29, ballooning out north or south, or north and south, of the current pavement. The county, using money from a $228 million 2006 bond package, would begin buying that additional right of way once Williamson County commissioners make a choice. The county's engineers say 500 acres to 850 acres would be needed for the 400-foot width, at a cost of somewhere between $14 million and $41 million.

The county's intentions have caused what passes for an uproar in the still mostly rural northwestern quadrant of the county. The idea of a massive expressway, probably with tolls, replacing what is a lightly traveled highway is a concept many find outlandish. Especially with gas at $4 a gallon and Americans recalculating the math of long commutes.

Throw in Texas 29 landowners' fears that they'll be forced to sell their property — unfounded, it turns out — and you have the ingredients for a mini-rebellion.

"This is absurd," said Clyde Davis, a Liberty Hill real estate agent who owns several properties fronting Texas 29. "We don't have the money, and we don't have the need. The tollway to nowhere, courtesy of our commissioners."

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