TxDOT adds passing lanes to US 67, rethinks intersection at the county courthouse

PRESIDIO COUNTY — The Texas Department of Transportation had surveyors out last week to begin early stages of two projects. The first, to add passing lanes along U.S. 67 between Presidio and Marfa, and the second, to potentially redesign the intersection of Highland Avenue and West Lincoln Street in front of the Presidio County Courthouse.

Both are safety improvement projects. The changes to U.S. 67 come after a years-long study of the U.S. 67 corridor. “One of the things we heard loud and clear through the U.S. 67 study was that additional passing lanes are needed, and we were able to secure funding to do passing lanes near Shafter,” said TxDOT Alpine Area Engineer Chris Weber. “The first thing we do is survey before we start any design or anything.”

The new lanes will follow the same “theme” as the changes that have been made between Fort Stockton and Alpine and between Alpine and Marfa, Weber says. The stretch of 67 between Marfa and Presidio already has climbing lanes, but TxDOT never had funding to add passing lanes. During the study, the state agency learned more about the various issues when traveling between Marfa and the border, including Solitaire Homes’ manufactured homes, speed differentials and traffic. Solitaire Homes’ wide load trailers have speed limitations and are regularly using the corridor. Passing lanes will let other travelers get around them.

Meanwhile at the courthouse, TxDOT is currently in the design phase of a safety improvement project located in front of the Presidio County Courthouse, at the intersection of State Highway 17 (Highland Avenue) and West Lincoln Street.

The project is funded for approximately $120,000, which consists of constructing a roundabout to increase the overall safety performance. TxDOT began the environmental evaluation process, which will follow the National Environmental Policy Act and federal regulations.

This phase of project development will also include detailed evaluations of impacts to natural and human environment, engineering feasibility, cost and public input. This project is estimated to begin construction May 2021.

The project is funded through the Highway Safety Improvement Program, because the intersection saw a higher incidence of crashes over a three year period, including a few incapacitating injuries, though no deaths.

Depending which side of the intersection a driver approaches, they are currently supposed to have right-of-way, come to a full stop or yield. While locals have a hang of it, Weber says, it can become confusing or dangerous once visitors are involved.

“We were able to get funding for some sort of intersection improvement like a roundabout in front of the courthouse,” Weber explained, but he added that ultimately, “We may or may not do the project.”

They will survey, determine if a change is something the community wants, and then determine if there are additional environmental considerations or extra restrictions from the Texas Historical Commission because of its proximity to the historic courthouse.

What does the Marfa community think of this concept? Weber hopes to find out. He also explains that roundabouts, from a safety standpoint, essentially eliminate T-bone accidents, because cars aren’t entering the intersection at a perpendicular angle.

“The ‘no build’ alternative is carried all the way through as an option. The best way to hear community opinions is early and often,” Weber says. If the project is rejected by the local community, and “we don’t end up doing it, the funding goes back into the pool for other projects. We can’t use it for anything else, but it’s not something that we have to do.”

TxDOT is striving to make the intersection safer not only for drivers, but for pedestrians and cyclists too.