Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
A newly created county transportation committee will help the area at the state level.
Kelly Traylor, the Cherokee County Pct. 1 Commissioner who serves as chairman of the Jacksonville Transportation Committee said that by uniting as one voice as they approach the state, entities within Cherokee County will be able to create better transportation routes within, which, in turn, make them more appealing to those who use them.
“We're working on two different resolutions (in support of separate projects along U.S. Highways 69 and 79) and trying to get everyone along those corridors who might benefit from them so we can take these resolutions to the transportation committee in Austin and say 'People are in favor of these projects,'” Traylor said. “We want to be able to go there with this support and ask the state to bump those projects when it comes to funding them. Because if they only hear about the big projects, like those along I-35 or I-20, our projects get thrown on a back burner.
“The Jacksonville Transportation Committee is trying to be a voice for rural areas, especially within our region,” Traylor said. “We want to make the existing routes of transportation – by road, by rail or by air – more appealing for the businesses and individuals who use these them when they come through our area. We want these routes to be more convenient for their use.”
The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce is the organizing body for the committee.
“From my understanding, it was in existence a few years ago, but dissipated, so the chamber brought it back,” Traylor said. “Basically, we were looking at traffic and shipping goods in and out of Jacksonville, so we looked at that area first, but because it often evolves into a larger region, we're considering that, too.”
Like the traffic route through Wells, in the southern part of the county.
Traylor said US 69 is a four-lane highway both north and south of the city, but travelers discover the road narrows to a two-lane road once inside city limits.
“That's the kind of thing that can pose a problem for a business that wants to ship (at points along the highway),” he said. “Another area is Texas Highway 204, which is used by college kids traveling from Stephen F. Austin (State University) to places like Dallas along US 175. So we're looking to see what we can do with the other entities to lobby for funding for rural East Texas to provide smoother flow of traffic in these areas, whether it's just someone wanting to get from Point A to Point B, or if it's a company shipping goods.”
Members from several different organizations comprise the committee, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Department of Transportation, local businesses, municipalities, school districts and even utility providers.
“Transportation routes affect things like water lines, electric lines, phone lines,” he pointed out. “If a road is widened, you've got to consider utilities, too.”
According to a brochure circulated by the Jacksonville Chamber, the committee is taking into consideration thoroughfares like the outer loop and congested areas along north US 69, working with TxDOT on regional priorities, improving US 175 as a four-lane highway from Henderson County into Jacksonville, and improving US 79 to a four-lane road from Buffalo to Carthage.
It also is looking at promoting usage at the Cherokee County Airport and working with Union Pacific to help ensure rail safety in the region.
“So it's about considering long-term, broader needs, not just looking at the needs of today,” Traylor said. “Hopefully, this will have a greater impact within rural East Texas, particularly in our cities, because when you use these routes, you'll maybe stop for fuel or stay at a local hotel and spend money, which has an economic impact on our area.”