By Rich Heiland
Free Press Publications, LLC
For Walker County News Today
LOCAL DRIVERS HAD best get used to some heavy construction around I-4 5 into 2027 according to timetables announced by the Texas Department of Transportation at an open house/public hearing late Thursday afternoon.
TXDOT, at the Walker County Storm Shelter event, shared plans for Projects 2A and 2B. The 2A section, at an estimated cost of $200 million, will begin in Fall 2021 and take roughly four years to complete. Section 2B will begin in the Fall of 2023.
The 6 p.m. public hearing covered only the 2A section. TXDOT staff was on hand from 4 :30 until after the hearing to go over designs and answer questions.
The 2A section will involve taking land from four businesses on the east side of I- 4 5 from 22ndStreet to 19thStreet. B&B Properties, Charlie’s Used Cars, CP Electronics and Kim’s Home and Garden Center would lose significant amounts of land along the current access road. The amount taken could leave the businesses with insufficient land to continue to function.
Huntsville Attorney Mike Park, who said he was representing business owners impacted by the plans, said people need to understand that the businesses will not be fully compensated for the full impact of the taking, nor would they be reimbursed for attorney fees.
“You will be paid for dirt, not for your business,” Park said. Per TXDOT hearing regulations staff could not respond to comments or questions. None of the property owners spoke during the hearing.
DETAILED, COLOR-CODED plans made the scope of the work clear.
The 2A portion of the work will involve widening and improvements from Highway 19 to roughly a mile north of Highway 30. Two bridges will be removed and redone – FM 1374 (Possum Walk/Montgomery Road) and Smither Road.
The Montgomery Road bridge will be taken down and rebuilt to include U-turn lanes on each side, like the current Highway 30 bridge. The new bridge will be widened and more lanes added. In addition, entrance and exit ramps to Montgomery Road will be widened, lengthened and improved though they will remain in roughly the same places.
The Smither Road bridge, which feeds into Avenue S on the east and the Ravenwood Village shopping complex entrance on the west, will be widened. Both the FM 1374 and Smither Bridges will have sidewalks and more lanes. Additionally, traffic lights will be placed on both the east and west side intersections of Smither and the access roads.
Moving north, the Highway 30 bridge will not be taken down. However, it will be restriped to create eight lanes. Also work below the bridge will result in more height clearance for trucks. The current U-turns that allow drivers to avoid the 30/Access Road intersections will remain.
Neal Riddle, PE, of the TXDOT Bryan office told the audience one of the most visible improvements locals will see involves creating “collector/distribution” lanes that will lengthen ramps and merges in addition to improvements to the access road. He said “shared use paths” will be created along the project and over bridges. These amount to sidewalks that can be shared by pedestrians and cyclists.
Two property owners not within the scope of the work told officials they were concerned that all the new paved areas would increase flooding potential on Normal Park Drive and even points further from the interstate.
“We don’t own property that will be confiscated,” Don Mathews said. “But we will be affected by drainage down Normal Park. We get water from the current I-45. So, even though our property won’t be acquired, will we be eligible for compensation?”
Again, TXDOT officials could not answer during the hearing itself.
PHASE 2B WILL begin in 2023 near the Holliday Unit on the west and Texas Department of Criminal Justice land on the east (just past Wiesner Huntsville).
The Highway 75 and I-45 interchange will come out and all access to I-45 moved north to Moffett Springs Road. The U-turn lane will remain and traffic still will go under I-45 on 75. by the new interchange.
The new full interchange will be near San Jacinto Street on the west side of 45 and Moffett Springs Road on the east; in other words, north of the truck stop area. In addition, access roads and drainage will be improved. The widening will continue on to FM 1696, which crosses I-45 just south of the rest stops.
Rich Heiland, former publisher of the Huntsville Item and owner of Free Press publications, LLC, a reporting/writing firm working with media, has been a reporter, editor and publisher at several daily papers. He was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team. He taught journalism at Western Illinois University. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or 936-293-0293.