- Ben Wear American-Statesman Staff
The southern, privately built section of Texas 130, which has been an obstacle course of bumps and cracks since shortly after its October 2012 opening, will see $60 million of pavement repairs over the next year in 35 spots between Mustang Ridge and Seguin.
Crews in many cases will be removing five feet or more of the road’s “sub-base,” the treated and compacted soil layers that underlie the highway’s asphalt driving surface, replacing it with soil with different, stronger properties, and then repaving those rehabilitated sections.
Some repairs will also include installation of impermeable layers of soil alongside the road to keep water from penetrating that road base and causing the soil to expand.
The 41-mile, four-lane divided tollway, which hit the national news in 2012 because of its 85 mph speed limit, will be reduced temporarily to a single lane in various northbound and southbound spots over the course of the work, said Andy Bailey, chief executive officer of the SH 130 Concession Co. The company runs the tollway under a 50-year lease with the Texas Department of Transportation.
The repairs, the company said, will not trigger a toll increase over at least the next year. The contract with TxDOT specifies certain criteria to qualify for a toll increase, SH 130 spokeswoman Kate Morton said, and that evaluation occurs every August. The last toll increase on this section of Texas 130 occurred in November 2015, she said.
The road’s vaunted speed limit will be reduced to as low as 65 mph in the sections with a closed lane, Bailey said. But traffic is still light enough on the road, he said, that those short constricted sections are unlikely to cause traffic congestion.
The coming work will be the second major trip to rehab for the troubled road, done by its second set of owners.
While its traffic has increased about 50 percent between 2013 and 2016, the toll road is still well below the expectations that the original partners in SH 130 — Spain-based Cintra and Zachry Construction Co. of San Antonio — had when they borrowed more than $1.1 billion to build it.
That light use of the road’s mostly rural route through Caldwell and Guadalupe counties meant that the original company could not make its loan payments and had to file for bankruptcy about three and a half years after the road opened. But long before the money ran out, the road’s bumps and rolls had led the original company to make what it said was about $2 million in repairs over 6 percent of the road’s length.
This second, much more expensive round of work, will cover 5 percent of the 40 miles, according to officials with SH 130 Concession Co.
While most of the borrowing was from European banks, the original owners’ debt included $550 million lent by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Those debtors, including Uncle Sam, now make up the majority of the new ownership group formed when the road emerged from a bankruptcy filing in June.
What the new owners inherited was a road apparently ill-designed and constructed for the clay-rich soils underlying it.
“I’ve been involved with roads for a long time,” Bailey told the Statesman this week. He did not work for the previous owners. “This is the first one I’ve been involved with that has had repairs this extensive in the first five years.”
The new owners have arranged for a $260 million “credit facility” with Goldman Sachs, Bailey said — essentially a line of credit. That set-aside of working capital includes the $60 million for the pavement and sub-base repairs.
Bailey said the work on the road itself will occur only during daylight hours, and that the areas restricted to one lane would typically be 200 to 1,000 feet long. But in leased land outside the road’s right of way, Bailey said, work will go on 24 hours a day on what he called “lime gardens” where workers will treat soil in preparation for its use on the highway.
The repairs, and the bankruptcy, do not involve Texas 130’s northern 49 miles, from Georgetown to Mustang Ridge. TxDOT operates that section, which was built by other contractors and is paved with concrete rather than asphalt. That part of Texas 130 has had much healthier traffic volumes and few problems with the pavement.