Presidio County applies for TxDOT grant to improve pedestrian connectivity between east and central Marfa

MARFA — Presidio County Commissioners recently submitted an application for a transportation alternatives grant through the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to fund improvements to pedestrian thoroughfares connecting East Marfa to the center of town. 

In addition to the project’s main focus — the construction of a 12-foot pedestrian bridge on the north side of the existing Oak Street motor bridge — improvements to sidewalks from the Marfa Public Library all the way to Avenue B will also be included.  

Presidio County Commissioner David Beebe, who is spearheading the initiative, said if it comes to fruition, the sorely-needed ADA-accessible bridge and sidewalk upgrades will give an underserved community safer access to a reliable walking and biking route. 

“What this whole thing would accomplish is to take people from Marfa Villa [Apartments] and Antelope Hills and Sal Si Puedes and give them a path to use, walking and biking, to the center of town, post office, pharmacies, the two parks –– the dog park and Travis Self Park –– all those services in town,” said Beebe. 

In total, the potential connectivity project will cost approximately $1,116,000 — the TxDOT grant would fund 80% of that sum. Beebe said the county expects to hear news of their initial application in April, but he is working closely with TxDOT representatives and believes there will be enough time to gather the necessary funds. 

Because the east side is relatively cut off from the center of town, with just two main entrances on Lincoln Street — which become treacherous to pass in the event of Alamito Creek flooding — and the Oak Street bridge, improved transportation would impact the lives of many residents, said Beebe. As it stands, the current situation sees east side residents crossing via a too-narrow, dangerous bridge where cars are often traveling at relatively high speeds. 

County Commissioner Brenda Bentley, whose working with Beebe on the project and whose jurisdiction would be the primary one impacted by the project, said she was hopeful the work could get done in order to improve pedestrian safety and prevent deaths. 

“There is just enough space for two vehicles passing each other. I’m worried about the safety of people who bike and walk through there to get into town,” said Bentley. “Creating a pedestrian path is a sure way to keep an accident from happening. It would keep pedestrians from having to be in close proximity to vehicles on that narrow path.”

Marfa Public Library Director Nicki Ittner echoed Bentley’s sentiments, stating a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists would provide a safer path for library patrons coming from that area. Additional benefits for the library include the replacement of a worn strip of concrete in front of the book barn as well as the addition of a 6-foot-wide sidewalk in front of the Ice Plant.

“We have families with strollers who have to walk in the street to access the library. Not to mention folks in wheelchairs. It would be such a benefit to our community — being able to safely walk throughout town and access important institutions like the library, clinic, post office, parks, and more,” said Ittner. “It’s one of those invisible protections you don’t notice until you need it.” 

The Oak Street, or Ranch Road 1112 bridge is located outside of the city limits and is owned and maintained by TxDOT. Beebe said due to its location, the project is a rare opportunity to help a growing part of Marfa that is not within the city’s purview. 

“The people outside the city limits especially, it’s rare that we have an opportunity to do anything for them infrastructure-wise that’s not just like grading a road,” said Beebe. 

The original project concept was to replace the entire Oak Street bridge, but Beebe said although it was built back in 1950, it was still scoring an 85 out of 100 in durability and structural integrity tests by TxDOT and didn’t make sense to reconstruct. Two existing pedestrian walkways in Marfa were funded through the TxDOT transportation alternatives grant program, including the sidewalk that connects El Cosmico to the neighboring RV park as well as the pedestrian bridge on Lincoln Street near Martin Field. Those projects experienced delays and were completed around 2019, according to Beebe.

An additional benefit to the east side connectivity project, said Beebe, would be the creation of a more continuous, scenic path for tourists looking to experience the desert landscape. Because the project will extend to Avenue B it will connect an unnamed trail, laid by TxDOT years ago with leftover aggregate material, that runs all the way to the golf course. 

“For the tourists, it gives an actual, ‘Hey if you want to go on a hike, you can hike from the post office all the way to the golf course and Vizcaino Park and come back, it’s all there.’ People come to Marfa they’re like, ‘Oh we’ll go into the desert and hike,’ but there’s nowhere to do it,” said Beebe. 

Permanent Marfa residents could also benefit from more recreational spaces, added Beebe — one of many healthy lifestyle factors currently in short supply for locals, he said. “We have this rural thing where we’re underserved — with healthy foods and healthy fresh produce, and all these things — and this is part of the way to combat that,” said Beebe. “Even though it’s a small token, it adds up.”