Frustration over lingering Harvey damage highlights years of mounting repair costs

The bridge over Gravelly Creek on Hector Road in Bastrop County was still blocked off Friday, Dec. 22, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)
The bridge over Gravelly Creek on Hector Road in Bastrop County was still blocked off Friday, Dec. 22, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

SMITHVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — Homeowners in Bastrop County are frustrated by what they see as slow progress toward replacing a bridge damaged during Hurricane Harvey, four months after the storm flooded parts of Central Texas.

“It’s kind of like a farming community,” Gerald Henderson said, walking up to barricades blocking the bridge over Gravelly Creek on Hector Road, northeast of Smithville. “People need to get down this road.”

The road has been closed there since Harvey washed out a large hole at one end and the Texas Department of Transportation advised Bastrop County to keep the bridge closed for structural reasons while they design a replacement. Since then, Henderson and his neighbors have been using the dirt roads that take them miles out of their way.

“It’s bad on your car, it’s bad on your tires, everything,” he said. “Most everybody uses this road because it’s paved.”

Another local resident, who lives on the other side of the creek from Henderson, said she worries about emergency vehicles getting around the area. Her husband has seizures, she said, and might need an ambulance to get there quickly.

But it might be another eight months before the bridge is replaced. Henderson and others are frustrated by the lack of progress. County commissioner Clara Beckett, who represents the precinct that covers that part of Bastrop County, told KXAN she feels those frustrations, too. “We’re trying to look at it as opportunities to harden our infrastructure — don’t just put it back the way it was, but do improvements everywhere that we can,” she said.

The county is using a TxDOT program to replace the bridge that allows them to use less local money, but that means it’s a long process. “It’s either do that or go broke,” Beckett said.

There simply isn’t enough money to replace it without help; TxDOT estimated the cost for design, engineering and construction at around $650,000, Beckett said. “By way of comparison, that’s about a third of our entire precinct budget for salaries, equipment, fuel, everything.”

It gets harder to justify that kind of cost when the county is still repairing damage from last year. “You put Harvey on top of four other floods,” Beckett said. She expects TxDOT to approve a funding agreement by early January, at which point design can start. She hopes to start construction by the spring, putting a final deadline on opening the new bridge close to a year after Harvey hit.

Henderson knows it takes time, but he want to see something happen so they know the process is in motion. “We just need to know when it’s going to be fixed,” he said. “And, you know, we need some concrete answers.”

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