Marfa travel troubles heard at last US 67 meeting

MARFA – At Marfa’s four way stop, drivers are creating their own right turn lanes, despite the painted white stripes and cones intending to deter that behavior. Tourists and pedestrians jaywalk at will across the highway. Bikers are vigilantly on guard, as 18-wheeler traffic is hitting exponential growth, and is expected to increase as the international bridge widening barrels forward.

With all this in mind, Marfa residents gathered around a table to debate what the future of Highland Avenue should look like Tuesday night. During their visit to the Mar-fa breakout session, Presidio County Judge Cindy Guevara, Council-members Raul Lara, Irma Salgado, and Buck Johnston, and local Marfa citizens Leticia Garcia and Marilyn Sanders tried to decipher the intersecting needs of drivers, pedestrians, bikers, and local businesses.

Nearby, a second Marfa table assembled with council member Natalie Melendez, Deirdre Hisler, Mona Blocker Garcia, and Mayor Manny Baeza. Both groups guided by CDM Smith consultants working for TxDOT talked through the handful of proposed options that TxDOT has landed on, based on the input from thousands of residents living in communities along US 67. The road spans from Fort Stockton to Presidio, passing through Alpine and Marfa in between. The US 67 Corridor Master Plan study has solicited resident input since November 2018 during dozens of public meetings and gatherings of “stakeholders.”

Area Engineer Chris Weber stated in his Tuesday presentation that the most requested planning concepts were bike and pedestrian improvements, rest areas between Presidio and Marfa, and relief at the Presidio Port of Entry. The Master Plan strives to meet the real desires of citizens who provide their input, so a good portion of the planning has been designed around these requests.

Weber also explained that some options are implemented much faster and cheaper than others. Rest stops between Marfa and Presidio could be a 30-year project if started now. However, pull offs between Marfa and Presidio can grow slowly. Weber outlined a process beginning with an expanded shoulder, which TxDOT already built during this study. The Profile of Lincoln and Elephant Rock now have shoulders where drivers can stop to rest and take photos.

If drivers use those, Weber says, TxDOT may add a trashcan and even more space, then a picnic table, a shelter, and finally, if there is enough demand, a full bathroom rest stop.

Back at table one, the group was realizing that a bike lane addition might compromise angled parking along Highland. Marfa has devoutly fought to keep its parking as-is for years, even as TxDOT mandates made it illegal for angled parking to be added to anymore of its state highway roads going forward.

As the group contemplated a two-way bike path on the east side of Highway 67, one participant pointed out that there is already a fully funded project to add a “shared use” path for bikes and pedestrians from El Cosmico to downtown, but along the west side of 67. To make the paths connect, the whole proposed bike lane option for the Master Plan would need to be reconfigured.

Though planning experts have consulted to propose safe new designs for the plan, it is citizen input that truly recognizes the real needs and wants of the community, and can point out impracticalities that seem good on paper.

After the four-way stop, the group looked at Highland and Lincoln. A federal Hazard Elimination and Safety Program has already awarded funding to TxDOT to fix this intersection in front of the courthouse, because the crossing has injured or killed enough Texans, or poses a substantial risk, making it is eligible for the program. It will be reworked to improve safety by implementing one of the proposals for a roundabout, dedicated bike lanes, or a simple “T” intersection with stop signs in all directions.

The Tuesday gathering was the last public meeting, but residents can still send input to before July 26 to have ideas considered for the study. Once the Master Plan is complete, it is put in the hands of city and county officials, who must find funding to implement any of the proposed options that would improve safety and maneuverability through west Texas’ Highway 67.