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City debates $1.3M road extension

By Richard Yeakley
Sept. 6, 2013 at 11 p.m.

The Longview City Council will consider spending $1.3 million to extend Fourth Street from Hawkins Parkway to U.S. 259 when it meets Thursday.

The council will decide whether to participate in a proposed developer participation contract with Gary Van Dusen to build a five-lane road on his 50-acre property and portions of Hinsley Park.

The council will also be asked to decide whether to amend the recently approved city budget for fiscal year 2013-14 to include a $1,354,500 account for the Fourth Street Extension project.

"It is more beneficial in terms of traffic flow and safety to have a continuous road there rather than to have the roads offset," city spokesman Shawn Hara said.

Hara said the road is expected to cost about $3 million. If the contract is approved, the city will support $1 million of the cost and allot $234,500 for contingencies.

The extra $120,000 would be allotted for remaining right of way acquisition and to adjust and install utilities.

"The extension will also cross a small portion of a tract located along Hawkins and owned by a third party," according to the summary of the ordinance included with the agenda for Thursday's meeting. "The agreement requires Mr. Van Dusen to contribute any necessary portions of his 50 acres to the city free of charge. However, the agreement does not cover any costs involved in acquiring property that is not owned by Mr. Van Dusen. All such costs will be born entirely by the City."

The extension of Fourth Street has not come without controversy.

The project was requested by developer Richard Henson and approved by the Longview Parks and Recreation Advisory Board in November.

In early April, the City Council granted city staff permission to enter into negotiations with VanDusen or other parties to build the extension.

In May, members of the Longview Metropolitan Planning Organization and Policy Board agreed to add the extension to the city's master transportation plan.

At that meeting, Henson said he had purchased property and would work to block the project after a deal between he and VanDusen fell apart.

Henson later added that, from his understanding, the nearly two acres of land he bought Dec. 19 on Hawkins Parkway for just less than $500,000 could be used to block the extension.

Details of that purchase are available in Gregg County County Clerk records.

It was not immediately clear Friday if the land owned by the third party and mentioned in the project's summary is owned by Henson.

Henson declined comment Friday.

Although the $153.1 million budget approved July 29 by a 5-2 vote did not explicitly account for looming purchases, such as the extension of Fourth Street, construction of a new animal shelter, or a public/private partnership for a hotel conference center, council members left the city with a general fund balance of $9.7 million - more than $3.5 million above the required 10 percent safety net.

"If the actual bids for construction of the project push the total expected project cost above the current estimated cost of $3,469,000, then the City and Mr. VanDusen will have the option to opt out of the agreement or to modify the agreement to address the additional costs of the project," the summary read.



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