Perspectives on the U.S. 377 Cresson Relief Route project are strikingly different depending on which side of the tracks you’re on.
Issues with long delays caused by train switching at the Fort Worth & Western railroad crossing at the intersection of U.S. 377 and State Highway 171 have been cussed and discussed for years. In May 2012, TxDOT announced it was upgrading the traffic and railroad signals there.
Stories have been told of traffic on Highway 377 backed up for miles, blocked on both sides for up to an hour at a time. Emergency vehicles have also been stopped in their tracks, also with no reasonable alternative route into Fort Worth.
A public information meeting Tuesday in Cresson included a 40-minute presentation by TxDOT, attended by an estimated 100 to 125 people.
TxDOT is conducting ongoing studies. Cresson residents previously voted from among five potential choices on a preferred route that would send traffic around the heart of town on a bypass route projected to be about 2-3/4 miles long. Other proposals initially included building an overpass over the railroad and even an underground tunnel.
The public can still submit written statements to TxDOT on the project, through March 7. Submissions must be received on or before Friday, March 7, 2014, and should be mailed to:
TxDOT Fort Worth District Office, Brian R. Barth, P.E., District Engineer, 2501 SW Loop 820, Fort Worth, TX 76133.
The prevailing thought at this point is that the four-lane relief route, north of Highway 377, will go forward with three overpasses – one large one spanning the railroad and SH 171 and the other two for crossover traffic at each end of the bypass. The land being acquired for the project’s right-of-way will cover about 115 acres.
It’s estimated the project will cost $38.8 million. TxDOT has stated that the current construction funding stands at approximately $10.75 million and noted during Tuesday’s meeting that it will “continue to develop the project and work with counties to identify full funding.”
Although part of the project is in Johnson County, officials there did not commit to any of the funding.
“(Hood) County’s part will be a maximum of $11.8 million. If construction costs escalate under the new agreement, we won’t be responsible for that,” Hood County Judge Darrell Cockerham said, adding that the Regional Transportation Council – part of the North Central Texas Council of Governments – will pitch in “around $14 million” for the Johnson County segment.
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Steve Berry said that Hood County can take up to 10 years to pay back its portion. Money beyond that will have to be worked out “in house” by TxDOT, he said. Berry said he doesn’t see it as a sticking point, or something likely to cause a significant delay.
“That’s not what I anticipate or hope,” Berry said. “I would hope this would be high up on their priority list because it is a safety issue.”
The ultimate cost to some Cresson businesses is hard to calculate.
“Some didn’t like what the route was,” Berry said of Tuesday’s meeting. “The majority expressed concerns about driveway access, the old route and their property. To me, it’s a lifeline to Granbury.”
But some in Cresson fear it may lead to another kind of death – of their livelihood.
Cresson Mayor Bob Cornett said that although the extent of the impact on businesses may be tough to predict, some involved are far from pleased.
“This has potential to bring extreme damage to all the (Cresson) businesses,” said Cornett, noting that four convenience stores, a couple of restaurants and several other businesses could be negatively affected with traffic routed around downtown Cresson. “It’s going to drastically affect them. They’re scared to death. It’s going to take 60 to 65 percent of the traffic off that (existing) highway. The convenience stores and the restaurants depend on that traffic. They’re very concerned they may lose their business.”
Precinct 3 Commissioner Jeff Tout said, “The businesses are going to be not worth nearly as much, with the loss of traffic. For the landowners, it’s a legitimate issue, but if we’re going to progress, some people are going to lose out. The gain has to be for the greater good.”
Another real concern Cornett has involves the city’s tax revenue.
“The city of Cresson does not have property tax,” Cornett said. “We run the city off of sales taxes, so it’s going to affect the income of the city as well.”
Cornett also noted that the bypass will split in half two prominent ranches – the Slocum Ranch and the larger Miles Ranch. Cornett said the Miles family, in particular, is “extremely upset” about the project.
Cockerham said that some improvements have been made in the way railroad switching is being handled at the Cresson intersection. But, he said that the delay issue remains a potential “choke point” for economic development.
And, Cockerham emphasized, “To my way of thinking, this is a safety issue.”
Warren Ketterman, who has been on the job as executive director of the Lake Granbury Area Economic Development Corporation for only about a month, said the meeting was civil and allowed concerns to once again be aired for the TxDOT officials in attendance.
“It’s an emotional situation a lot of times,” Ketterman said. “I understand that wholeheartedly.”
However, Ketterman said that consideration of public safety and mobility have always been a “hallmark” of TxDOT in such matters.
The construction is proposed to start in 2016 and have a projected completion date in 2018.
“That’s four years out. In four years, where will our population be?” Berry said. “In 2020 they expect Hood County’s population to be 75,000. A lot of people in Granbury go to work and school in Fort Worth. To me, it’s a quality of life issue.”
Ketterman even speculated that Cresson will eventually benefit as more businesses continue to filter into the area between Cresson and Fort Worth.
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