TXDoT: area residents look for safety along US 67

FAR WEST TEXAS – The Texas Department of Transportation held four meetings last week, in Presidio, Marfa, Alpine, and Fort Stockton to gather input from community members as the department studies ways to improve US 67 from Presidio to Interstate 10 near Fort Stockton.

According to TXDoT Public Information Officer Lauren Macias-Cervantes, the four meetings attracted a total 308 community members and public officials, with 109 Presidio/Ojinaga residents attending in Presidio, 103 people showing up in Alpine, 81 Marfans, and only 15 residents in the largest town of Fort Stockton.

The meetings, the TXDoT spokesperson said, were intended to listen to concerns from residents along the route for future infrastructure improvements.

“Safety and emergency response were the two topics most people saw as priorities, with the key items being the need for passing lanes, turning lanes, alternative routes, and intersection improvements,” she said, adding that the information gathered at the meetings has not yet been fully vetted and commenting on the project is still underway until June 1 on the US 67 Corridor Master Plan website. “The main thing is to give people the chance to give us feedback as to what they want to see from us.”

In Presidio, Presidio Municipal Development District Executive Director Brad Newton said he would like to see better turn lanes onto FM 170 west and to Presidio Lely Airport.

Other Presidio suggestions were for more passing lanes, especially if as expected, Solitaire Homes expands its business and sends more and bigger homes northward to the housing market.

“If extra passing lanes prevents just one bad accident in this regard, they’d have been more than worth the cost,” said Presidio Mayor John Ferguson.

Both Presidio and Marfa residents have called for rest stops between the two communities.

In Marfa, many comments from residents also showed concern over the region’s aesthetics and making the highway friendlier for bicyclists, the spokesperson said.

“One of the suggestions was to preserve the beauty and aesthetics of Marfa by re-routing truck traffic to Alpine because trucks are not good for the tourist economy,” she said, adding that others suggested the removal of rumble strips or cutouts in the rumble strips for bicyclists.

Safety, she added, was still the overall concern in Marfa.

In Presidio, Macias-Cervantes said, the department received comments mostly about safety and economic development.

“Obviously, safety is top for all the cities,” Macias-Cervantes explained. “We received comments about a possible traffic circle in town – where the ‘Y’ is right now, and the addition of alternative routes and rest areas between Presidio and Marfa.”

The people of Presidio, she added, came out in droves despite the area-wide blackout.

“There was a rainstorm and power outage and it didn’t deter people from attending. They kept coming in and hanging out with us,” she said.

The study, Macias-Cervantes said, is still in the early stages with two more rounds of public meetings slated for the future.

“We’re taking all the comments and we’re going back to the public in the fall with the results of the study,” she said.

Since the study began, there have also been concerns that the project is similar to the La Entrada al Pacifico project, which studied the feasibility of opening a four-lane highway through the Big Bend region to open a trade route between Mexico and the United States. For area TXDoT engineer Chris Weber, the comparison of the two studies aren’t warranted.

“A majority of the people I’ve had the opportunity to talk to, including elected officials and community members have understood what it is and what it isn’t. There have been a few folks going back to assuming it’s another La Entrada,” Weber said. “There are several key differences. [With the La Entrada study], there was no input from the community. It all came from Austin with no direct involvement with the public or local officials. [The US 67 Corridor Study] is about looking at improvements of the corridor and the addition of passing lanes to make the route safer. The public is what’s driving” this study. The current study, Weber added, was implemented due to the fact that the corridor has a higher rural accident crash rate than anywhere else in the state.

“The biggest emphasis is safety. US 67 between Presidio and Fort Stockton is one-and-a-half times higher than the average rural crash rate and we’re looking at why that is. [The corridor] has a good guardrail, good striping, and is up to par with most roads. We can’t find an engineering reason why the rate is higher,” he said. “I understand the sensitivity because of what happened with La Entrada, but if this whole process saves one life, it will be worth it.”

The engineer also pointed to the executive summary of La Entrada, which was never published but is available through open records act requests, which stated that developing a trade corridor was deemed unviable.

The study, he added, has already led to the implementation of signage east of Alpine near where the highway splits.

“We were doing the bus tour and Rush Carter of the CBP (Border Patrol) made a remark that drivers like to pass in no-passing lanes even though there are passing lanes up ahead. He said we should have signs saying how many miles away passing lanes are and it hit me that we never thought of that. We ordered signs that say passing lanes are two miles away for most of the corridor immediately,” he

(staff photo by ROBERT HALPERN)

TxDOT district engineer Chris Weber, left, visits with Presidio County commissioner-elect Frank “Buddy” Knight.

said. “This anecdote demonstrates the power a good comment has. It’s a power most people don’t realize they have.”

TXDoT will continue taking comments and suggestions for the US 67 Corridor Master Plan through their website at us67.mindmixer.com and over the phone at 915.790.4205 through Friday, June 1.