Gillespie County in the news: pipelines, relief routes, and cost of living

Although these events don’t directly affect Kerrville or its citizens, we believe it is useful to keep abreast of issues that affect nearby communities so that we may learn from their efforts, successes, or mistakes. Our neighbors to the north are exploring (or bracing for) the possibility of two new rights-of-way that would require purchase or acquisition of private land or easements across private lands: 1.) a highway “relief route” to divert traffic around the core downtown; and 2.) a new natural gas pipeline planned by Kinder Morgan. As these two infrastructure deals take shape, the city of Fredericksburg is also in the news for being named the “least affordable” place to live in the state of Texas.

Highway Relief Route

According to the fact sheet, “The City of Fredericksburg and Gillespie County, acting through the Gillespie County Relief Route Task Force and with support from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), are conducting a feasibility study to explore a potential US 290 relief route around Fredericksburg. The relief route would give people the option to travel around,
rather than directly through, the city.”

Study area for Fredericksburg’s “relief route” for Highway 290

According to the support materials, high traffic volumes and downtown congestion have increased in recent years, and the need for an alternate route has been an important issue for the community. The Fredericksburg Relief Route Study would identify route options for construction of a loop or alternate route for through traffic. This alternate route would be constructed in cooperation between the City of Fredericksburg and TxDOT, and would require significant purchases of private land.

However, realization of this idea is still a long way off. If it proceeds according to plan, the actual construction of this project might be 7+ years off. Several meetings have already been hosted by the City of Fredericksburg and TxDOT, including meetings on May 31 and September 24. Another public workshop will take place on January 24, 2019, at the Pioneer Museum Sanctuary.

Although a number of routes are being considered, the most cost-effective route may be the one that is closest to the city, requiring the fewest number of miles for easements, acquisitions, and construction. Some of the conceptual routes are pictured below.

Conceptual route options for relief route. Source: http://ftp.dot.state.tx.us/pub/txdot/get-involved/aus/fredericksburg-relief-route/092418-conceptual-routes.pdf

For more information about the relief route project, visit the following links:

Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline

A project that is not looked upon nearly as favorably as the relief route is the proposed Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline that is planned to traverse Gillespie County along its route that starts in west Texas and ends near Katy.

Approximate route for Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline. Source: https://www.braungresham.com/condemnation/active-pipeline-companies-texas/permian-highway-pipeline/

Kinder Morgan, one of the largest pipeline companies in the US, is currently surveying the route and seeking contractual agreements with property owners along the way. Construction could begin as early as this fall and the pipeline would be operational by 2020. These companies are authorized by the State of Texas to seize private land through eminent domain, as long as the property owners are “fairly compensated.”

Some property owners near the proposed route are calling this plan “another assault on one of the most iconic regions of the state,” and some property owners also recall the recent electric transmission lines that came through this part of the hill country.

The proposed route through Gillespie County would be south of Fredericksburg, cutting perpendicularly across State Highways 16 and 87. See the approximate route in the graphic below, or visit this link for a more accurate map of potentially affected lands.

For more information about this proposed pipeline project, visit the following links:

Fredericksburg: Least affordable city in Texas?

A website known as Walletwyse studied the relationship between the minimum wage and the median-priced housing market in various cities across the country, and computed the relative affordability of living in these places as a minimum-wage earner. Fredericksburg was listed as the least affordable city in Texas using this metric, which assigned debt-to-income ratios based on those minimum wage rates and median home prices.

Map of affordability, with green being most affordable, and red being least affordable, according to walletwyse.com.

The minimum wage in Fredericksburg is $7.25 per hour, as it is in every city in the state of Texas. The median home price is listed at $305,600. In comparison, Kerrville’s median home price is listed at $206,700.

While we know that median housing prices are not a perfect model for overall affordability of living in a place, this study provides an interesting set of metrics to compare across the country.

See the study here: https://www.walletwyse.com/analytics/min_wage_affordability_jan2019

Conclusions

As we mentioned at the outset, these events have little impact on the average Kerrville resident, but we feel that it’s a good idea to look to neighboring communities and examine how they deal with challenges such as transportation, infrastructure, housing, costs of living, etc., because our community must also deal with those issues on an ongoing basis. Fredericksburg and Gillespie County will have a lot on their plate in the upcoming year as they deal with rapid growth, increases in tourism, and economic development issues.