December 1, 2021 303 PM
TRI-COUNTY — The stoplights popping up on rural highways all around the Big Bend have been the talk of the town—or at least local social media pages, where residents have expressed confusion and displeasure about the presence of the lights. The stoplights that have recently cropped up on Highway 67 between Marfa and Alpine and FM170 between Redford and Lajitas are the only true tricolor stop lights in the Big Bend. Most residents are much more familiar with jockeying for right-of-way around a four-way stop.
The stoplights and the road construction projects they protect are part of the US 67 master plan, a long-term Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) project to improve safety on rural highways between Fort Stockton and Presidio. According to TXDOT, the US 67 corridor experiences more crashes than comparable roadways in the state, with 878 crashes recorded between 2010 to 2018.
There are currently three major TXDOT projects underway on highways in the Big Bend area. Drivers making trips between Marfa and Alpine in the past few weeks have taken note of the stoplight near the western edge of Paisano Pass. This project is a hazard elimination and safety project to install a new guardrail with retrofit rail. “After completion of the current location, they will be relocating to SH 17 in Fort Davis to perform the same operations,” explained Lauren Macias-Cervantes, a public outreach officer for TXDOT in El Paso. She estimates both phases of this project will be completed by July 15, 2023.
Between Marfa and Presidio, crews have been hard at work near Cibolo Creek Ranch, occasionally directing traffic through a one-way stretch of highway. This particular stretch is part of a passing lane improvement project that aims to improve safety and mobility in the section of Highway 67 near Shafter, where crashes are common. After an additional passing lane is added, the project should be completed on January 21, 2022.
On FM 170, or the River Road, tourists and locals alike have encountered a pair of stoplights on the remote stretch of road between Redford and Lajitas. They are currently located at Tapado and Panther Canyons. “The project is currently in phase 1 which consists of the demolition and reconstruction of Tapado and Panther bridges,” Macias-Cervantes said. Phase 2 will include the same bridge project on the other side of the Big Hill, at Madera and Contrabando Canyons. This project’s estimated completion date is March 10, 2023.