(September 25, 2014) SPRING BRANCH — To state transportation officials, a new detour of U.S. 281 around the post office here is just a temporary glitch in an otherwise successful $30.5 million project to widen the heavily-used highway.
Once the federal facility relocates, a contractor will demolish the building and put down the last few hundred yards of pavement, said Josh Donat, spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation.
But U.S. Postal Service officials call the sweeping S curve completed last week an unwelcome encroachment on their leased site in Comal County, one that forced them to close one of two entrances to its parking lot.
The two agencies differ on how much notice the Postal Service received on the need for it to get out of the way of a project originally due for completion in the summer of 2015 but now expected to wrap up in November.
Many motorists and taxpayers, meanwhile, see the $600,000 spent on the detour as emblematic of government waste and inefficiency, with an unsafe twist in the pavement added to the expense.
“For them, it’s OK. For someone in the private sector, it wouldn’t be accepted,” Rick Hassan, owner of the nearby Spring Branch Store, said as he stocked soda Thursday.
Having driven U.S. 281 North routinely, local resident Adrian Gomez was surprised one recent night when the roadway, normally limited to 50 and 55 mph, suddenly sloped left with an advisory speed limit of 30 mph.
“I didn’t know where the road was going,” said Gomez, 23. “It should be straightened out. It’s not safe.”
Noting the turns are clearly marked, Donat said, “If you hit it at 75 mph, it’s absolutely dangerous. But, if you hit it at 30 mph, you’re in great shape.”
Many businesses along this stretch of the highway have struggled since Hunter Industries began work in February 2013 to expand the two-lane country road to a four-lane divided highway with improved safety features, said Hassan, adding, “A better road means a better future for us.”
He praised Ervin Wolfshohl, project supervisor for the San Marcos-based road-building firm, for minimizing the disruption from the project, whose design called for the two northbound lanes to pass directly through the post office site, which TxDOT bought in 2010.
But as crews entered the final phases of work and the Postal Service continued its search for a new home, the state agency made the detour decision.
“I’ve been doing this for 41 years with Hunter Industries and this is the first time I’ve come up against something like this,” Wolfshohl said Thursday. “I always believed the post office would move.”
Postal Service spokesman Sam Bolen said the agency’s lease on the site runs until 2028. Agency officials thought until last year that they wouldn’t have to move before 2017, he said.
“With only one way in and out on that busy road, it creates a problem for our customers and employees,” Bolen said of the detour. “We weren’t consulted by TxDOT.”
When informed of the need to move, he said, the Postal Service began following its guidelines, which include community meetings and public notices, for selecting a new site. The usual process is complicated because TxDOT is expected to foot some of the bill for relocating, he said.
“Some prospective sites have been identified,” Bolen said. “We are currently in discussions with TxDOT regarding the contending sites.”
Donat said TxDOT told postal officials in March 2010 that the land would be condemned and the Postal Service’s initial response was that it didn’t intend to vacate.
“They’re going to be there for the foreseeable future, as far as we know,” he said. “We want to get that project done, so we moved ahead with the detour.”
Sizing up the situation, Canyon Lake resident Joe Marschhauser, 63, said, “This is classic state-versus-federal. Why didn’t they coordinate it better to get the post office moved? It just seems like a waste of our tax money.”