The Norman Activity Center was crowded Thursday evening to hear a presentation by the Texas Department of Transportation. TxDOT is considering building a relief route to lessen the amount of traffic coming through Jacksonville along U.S. 69. There are several reasons for the relief route, according to a flyer given out during the meeting. A relief route is expected to:
Provide an improved hurricane evacuation route; and
Protect natural and social environmental resources.
Jeffrey Harmon is the Director of Transportation Planning and Development for the TxDOT Tyler District, which covers several counties in the East Texas area. Harmon said this is only a study into the possibility of building a relief route, no concrete plans are in place yet. He briefly mentioned some previous studies done by the department, one in 1999 and another in 2009, and how they would affect the current one.
“Let me see a show of hands for those of you who were at a public meeting about a Jacksonville U.S. 69 relief route about 10 years ago,” He said. “Well, everything at that meeting you can kind of disregard that right now. How about those of you who were at a meeting 20 years ago? Again, forget about everything you were told at those meetings. This is a new study, we will be using information potentially that we gathered in those older studies but we're starting a new study on the U.S. 69 relief route … Things have changed since those studies were done. That's why it's important to start a new, fresh look at it.”
After Harmon spoke, the presentation was given to Matt Brannen with BGE, an engineering firm based in Houston. BGE will be playing a consulting role in the relief route study, Brannen explained that the study area for the relief route centers on the city of Jacksonville. The area of study runs south to the Craft area, north just beyond Love's Lookout, west to Lake Jacksonville and east to about the “future location” of Lake Columbia.
He also pointed out additional reasons why a relief route for the highway will be beneficial. For one, he said that along all of U.S. 69, there are 27 stop lights. Eight of these, roughly a third, are in the Jacksonville area. This can lead to quite a bit of congestion, he said.
Brannen also gave some numbers on the number of vehicles the city sees on a daily basis. Coming north on U.S. 69, roughly 7,760 vehicles a day come into Jacksonville. Coming south on the highway are 8,250 vehicles a day. U.S. 79 also contributes to congestion, with an average of 5,430 vehicles going east and 4,750 going west each day. About 3,510 vehicles go into Jacksonville on U.S. 175, as well. Brennan added that the population of the Tyler/Jacksonville area is projected to increase by 30 percent during the next two decades.
“Right now U.S. 69, as it exists today, is not sufficient for the traffic that it's getting,” he said.
A relief route could also lower the amount of traffic accidents Jacksonville sees, Brennan added. The state average for car wrecks on a four-lane Highway like U.S. 69 is 378 crashes for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In Jacksonville, From 2012 to 2016 the city saw abut 620 accidents per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the downtown area between Hwy. 135 and U.S. 79, about 65 percent above the state-wide average. From U.S. 79 to Tena St., there was an average of 530 accidents per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, which is about 40 percent above average.
“What we're seeing is, and not that it's too much of a shock, that in the area that has the highest concentration of traffic and the highest concentration of traffic signals that accidents are up. That's what we're looking to alleviate.”
Having explained “whys” and “whats” of the relief route study, Brannen gave the audience a brief schedule of expected events. The preliminary meeting was meant to let people know what was going on. After the meeting, they will undergo data collection and begin designing possible relief routes. A second meeting will be held some time in the spring to reveal these proposals. A third meeting will be held in the summer after receiving more public feedback on the best option. Brannen pointed out that, after all of this, there may not be a relief route. This is all meant to look into the feasibility of one. If the studies show that U.S. 69 just needs to be widened, or a relief route is not needed, they will go with that.
More information from the presentation may be found online at the TxDOT website. Go to www.txdot.gov and search “U.S. 69 Jacksonville.” For more information, contact Harmon at Jeffrey.Harmon@txdot.gov.