Cass County's fledgling Economic Development Consortium for its fourth meeting heard from Rebecca Wells, Atlanta District engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), Wednesday, March 8, in Queen City.
The consortium formed in January consists of the county judge and the four economic development corporation communities of Linden, Atlanta, Hughes Springs and Queen City. The group meets monthly to discuss how to work together for economic development. An agenda item for the meeting after TxDOT discussion was titled, "What is occurring in everyone's community?" Discussion was lengthy for this topic.
Wells outlined TxDOT activities relevant to Cass County. And in this regard, she gave remarks on the major I-69 highway project, sidewalks, roadway illumination and striping, pavement resurfacing at the roadside park between Atlanta and Linden, progress of the State 8 Highway bridge over Lake Wright Patman, the district's latest efforts at decreasing fatalities on Texas highways and the need for public input.
Here are summaries of some of her remarks on these subjects:
The project of I-69 coming near Atlanta and Queen City drew questions. (I-69 is an interstate highway of some 720 miles now in 10 sections which will connect Mexico at the Texas border with Canada. Locally, I-59 is one of those sections.)
"A rumor is that it will circle way out west and bypass Atlanta and Queen City," said one person from the audience.
"I don't know that we've nailed down how to get through Atlanta and Queen City," Wells responded, "but what has been decided is that development will start north of Queen City at FM 2327 and go to FM 2148 south of Texarkana. The route will stay on the existing alignment of U.S. 59."
Wells said the consensus of previous public meetings was to stay pretty much on alignment from Queen City to FM 2148. It won't veer too much, she said.
"We've received development authority for a 10-year plan for this section of I-69 from US 59 at Queen City to FM 2148 Texarkana. We'll hire the consultant to begin that work.
"We've no money to construct at this point, but we're headed in the right direction. What I could imagine that I-59 will remain pretty much your main lane. And we'll end up building frontage roads which will require buying right-of-way to make that happen. The main lanes will be controlled access similar to that at Domino and its frontage road to the bridge. It will look more like interstate as opposed to driveways connecting to the main lane."
"We've made decisions to put in sidewalks whenever possible," Wells said. But a lot of the difficulty boils down to right of way and who owns it, she explained.
From the audience came the observation of pedestrians walking along the roadside near CHRISTUS St. Michael-Atlanta being in danger and widening or sidewalks needed.
"It would take awhile for us to buy right of way and all. Perhaps the city could buy the right-of-way, and we partner with widening the shoulder or having sidewalk," Wells said, taking a moment to explain.
"As an example, I travel Hwy. 11 in Linden nearly every day where we have four lanes from the square. That's two lanes in and two lanes out. We didn't need these four lanes, and people were walking those lanes, maybe going to the store.
"We don't need four lanes, so we did a seal coat on the sides and re-striped it to become two lanes and a shoulder. It's wonderful. It's not a sidewalk, but we had the room to make it happen. It's functional, and people are walking there."
"Our goal is to have every state to state highway intersection with illumination. This is for safety, and we are 70% there in all our nine counties," Wells said.
Then she explained the district has been engaged in creating more safety lighting at the rural intersections, For example, at State Highways 161 and 130 (in western Cass County), the department made a four-way stop.
"We had a fatality crash there, and we thought a four-way stop was right to do. We've included advance warning and additional signs. We try to draw attention to that stop, but it still may be unfamiliar to some local drivers," she noted.
I-59 roadside park between Atlanta and Linden
"You have noticed we did some treatment at the roadside park with high friction surface treatment. Really high, you could almost trip walking on during bad weather. The idea is to keep crashes down. It's effective but expensive."
Wells said on the roadway there is concrete paving into Linden and diamond grinding will be done on this concrete.
"Should add more friction on concrete and during weather events, tires will have more to grab and be safe on," she said.
Highway 8 Bridge
State Highway 8 bridge over Lake Patman is now having roads connected to it, Wells said, and is on its way to being completely open. Obviously it is a little higher, which is good in that it will keep it out of the water if a big event occurs, she said.
"I don't know if water has gone over the old bridge, but it has lapped and splashed up onto the old bridge, which is very narrow. This bridge is coming down."
Striping and Pavement marking
Wells said the state as whole has gone to using six-inch pavement marking as opposed to four-inch. This is for safety.
She told of noticing Hwy. 11 from Linden to Hughes Springs has six-inche markings most of the way but goes down to four inches at a section. This will be changed. When it's raining or at night, it is especially good to have wider pavement markings. Let's just do it all, she said.
"We appreciate public opinion. If signs aren't working right or lighting is out, we appreciate those calls. We can go to the contractor and say, look, you've got to do something, we're getting these calls. They will do something.
"It's just that we've got a lot of stuff. Atlanta's district is nine counties, over 6,000 miles of roadway, so it does benefit us to be told. It's more eyes out there."
Fatalities on Texas Highways
Wells took an extended moment to talk about fatalities on Texas Highways.
"We look at all crash data and come up with ideas for improvement. Things we may not have picked up on naturally. But, generated from crash data, we can find there's something we can do to make it safer."
Wells said there is an acknowledgment that every day since Nov. 7, 2000, at least one death has occurred on Texas highways. In 2021, the district had the highest number of fatalities since 1981, which may have been the result of its being a pandemic year.
Wells said that the hiring of a public information person with a background in broadcasting has been helpful in getting out safety information. A Facebook page on the Internet and other social media activities has helped the department be more helpful and the public safer in good times and bad. In 2022, the number of fatalities recorded (69) was an anticipated level.