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2011-02-03

What TxDOT can & cannot do for county

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Personnel with the Texas Department of Transportation recently came to Bandera County with plans for local roadway improvements. They left after getting an earful from county fathers about the plans.

Pictured: During a recent meeting, Jonathan A. Bean, TxDOT advanced transportation planning director for the San Antonio District, listened to concerns expressed by Bandera County Commissioners.




The Alamo Region Rural Planning Organization Workshop began on Friday, Jan. 21, with a briefing by Jonathan A. Bean, PE. Bean is the advanced transportation planning director for the San Antonio District. Other TxDOT personnel accompanying Bean included Kerr County Engineer Michael Coward.
Dialogue opened
"This meeting was designed to open a dialogue regarding designated priorities from 2011 to 2014," Bean said. "We'll ask the court to provide priorities from 2015 and beyond." Similar meetings were being held with all 11 rural counties in the Alamo Region, he said.
Although priority projects included system preservation, which mostly encompasses road paving; operations, which deals with safety issues, including turn lanes and low water crossings; and mobility, Bean said funding was only available for preservation and operations. "We're trying to hold together what we already have," he said. "There is no funding at this time to increase mobility in rural counties."
One of the maps in Bean's PowerPoint presentation indicated a "good" quality of flow on all state roads in the county, with one exception - where Highway 173 meets Highway 16 on Main Street in Bandera.
Reconfiguration
'unacceptable'
"If I tell you there's a problem on Main Street, I don't want you to tell me you can't do anything about it until 2015," said Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris.
"Highway 173, both north and south, has become a major thoroughfare for truck traffic trying to bypass San Antonio and it puts everything on Main Street," said Precinct 1 Commissioner Bruce Eliker. "Someday, somebody's going to have to do something about it." In 2003, Eliker retired from TxDOT as maintenance section supervisor in Kendall County.
While acknowledging the problem on Main Street, Coward also noted that previous studies have shown that configuring a better flow pattern in downtown Bandera is "unacceptable to the community because it would lead to less parking on the street."
Other concerns included the apparent out-of-sync signal lights on Main Street. "Sometimes you have to sit through eight or nine signal light changes before you get through a light," Harris said.
Echoing Harris' criticism, Judge Richard Evans asked if the signals could be adjusted, noting, "Sometimes traffic is backed up from one light to the other."
Coward offered to check the timing on the lights, which, he said, might alleviate traffic congestion. "Both signals have been on our radar for an upgrade. The signal lights have to talk to one another."
Signal at Old SA?
Discussion of signal lights segued to another problem - traffic congestion on Highway 16 South where it intersects with Old San Antonio Road. "We have a big problem when school begins and ends," Evans said. "There's no light in the vicinity of the high school and it's a nightmare. People bypass that area and that creates more problems. We need a signal light at the intersection." Currently there is a flashing yellow light on Highway 16 at Old San Antonio Road.
Bean said that a TxDOT study indicated that adding a left turn lane onto Old San Antonio road from Highway 16 by the Bandera Village Shopping Mall would help alleviate the problem.
"Are you sure that you want a signal light on 24-7, 365 days a year for 15-minute problems that occur twice a day?" he asked. "Maybe the police department could handle the problem for a hour a day."
While noting that signals must be operational at all times, Bean indicated a signal on Highway 16 would stay green until it was activated by traffic on the side street.
After disclosing that a signal light had already been approved for the intersection of Polly Peak and King Ranch roads, Bean said installation would begin in six to eight months.
Unimpressed, Harris said, "Old San Antonio Road coming into 16 is horrific." Predicting that someday a school bus filled with students would be T-boned, he added, "I think a light here is more important than one at Polly Peak."
Bean said the Polly Peak signal was on tap due to the number of crashes at the intersection attributed to speed. "We work where we continually see crashes."
People trapped
Harris also queried Bean about low water crossings on Park Road 37 in his precinct, emphasizing that medical, law enforcement and firefighting personnel cannot respond due to flooded low water crossings. "An eight-inch rain trapped 2,000 people for seven hours," Harris said. "Park Road 37 is the only way in or out of that area."
He continued, "I have 5,000 people in a highly congested part of the county and [TxDOT] is not spending a dime there until 2012."
Coward offered to meet with Harris and tour the trouble spots.
The chief concern of Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King was a bridge at English Crossing and Bottle Springs Road that, due to flooding, was once closed for three months. "When that happens people and school buses have to take a 25-mile detour," King explained.
Coward said that bridges for reconstruction were selected statewide on a "formula-driven basis." The bridge in King's precinct, it seems, never gets a sufficient rating to warrant reconstruction. However, work on it is scheduled for 2019.
Pointing out the inequities, a commissioner noted that the state approved redoing a Bandera County bridge that carried only 13 cars a day as opposed to the one at English Crossing that handles 500 to 1,000 vehicles a day.
"I'll see what I can do," Coward said, adding King to the list of commissioners he intended to meet with.
Declining quality
of work
Evans also expressed concern about the declining quality of roadway reconstruction and rehabilitation work. In particular, he cited a section of Highway 16 South recently redone by private crews contracted by TxDOT. "I understand that Gov. Richards gutted TxDOT, but it's a terrible waste of money when you have to redo a stretch of the highway after just a few weeks."
Coward replied, "We're trying to make money go as far as possible, so sometimes we just do a sealcoat. In that area you mentioned we had a bad failure. We did it as cheaply as we could, but the buck stops with me."
"We understand that services are a function of money," Evans said.
"We want to do our best," Bean reiterated.