Rita Jonse, at least for a few hours during weekday mornings and afternoons, is mayor of a parking lot.
“Manor’s getting to be like Austin,” said Jonse, who’s been the leader of the not-so-small-anymore town since 2014 and serves on the Capital Metro board. On U.S. 290 during morning rush, she said, “We’ve got cars stacked all the way to Elgin.”
The Texas Department of Transportation, however, is in the early stages of designing a bypass around Manor’s east and south sides, a rerouting of FM 973 that would remove an awkward dogleg in that road and give commuters a direct route to the Texas 130 tollway.
Currently three-lane FM 973 crosses over Texas 130 about three miles south of Manor and then runs right through town as two-lane Lexington Street, dead-ending at U.S. 290.
People looking to continue north on FM 973 — the Manor school district’s football stadium is along that section of the road — must turn right and go about a mile on U.S. 290 before the farm-to-market road picks up again.
The proposed road would cut that corner south and east of town, making FM 973 continuous, and outside the city proper, all the way from Texas 130 to the northward extension east of town.
TxDOT, which has four possible routes in mind within a pod-shaped study area, hopes to get the project environmentally cleared by the middle of 2019. Then, if the right of way can be acquired and the required $35 million to $40 million can be found in TxDOT’s budget, construction could start by 2022.
The new route would require TxDOT to acquire between 70 and 120 acres of new right of way and displace two to five homes, depending on the route, TxDOT said in a public presentation.
“It would just alleviate so much traffic,” said Jonse, whose town’s population has increased from about 1,500 in 2000 to more than 8,400 last year. “Manor is growing, and it’s going to grow some more.”
TxDOT, as part of the federally required environmental impact study, held a public meeting Dec. 7 to present those four possible routes. That happened to be the day of a freakish early December snowfall in Central Texas, and eventually everyone had to be sent home early.
But TxDOT engineer Adeliza Ramirez, who helped put on the open house-style meeting, said 60 or so people showed up despite the lousy weather.
“They were happy we were looking at the project,” Ramirez said.
Under the early design, no matter which route is chosen, Ramirez said the newly built sections of FM 973 — a stretch of 4.7 miles to 5.6 miles, depending on the option — would have four lanes divided by a grassy median. There would be left-turn bays cut into the median at some points.
“There’s quite a bit of truck traffic there, and eliminating the dogleg will help us with that,” Ramirez said. “And there’s just a ton of development going on. We have about four subdivisions going in” in or near Manor.
Jonse said the FM 973 bypass used to be in the Central Texas area’s long-term transportation plan, then fell out of it about a decade ago. Manor leaders, she said, were delighted when they heard from TxDOT letting them know it was a live project yet again — if, at this point, one without nailed-down construction funding.
“It’s going to take big bucks,” Jonse said. “But I’m so excited. I’m sure hoping it’s going to come to fruition.”