TxDOT hosted an informational open house and public hearing at North Zulch High School on Thursday that presented plans to widen Highway 21 and offer a southern relief route around North Zulch.
All of the public speakers at the hearing, many of whom own potentially impacted land on 21, voiced fierce opposition to the project.
While Madison County Judge Tony Leago did not condemn the project, he was the first to voice the popular opinion that what the community really needs is a relief route around Madisonville to avoid hazardous traffic from the Square to Interstate 45.
“I go through Madisonville every day and we have an incredible traffic issue that is growing,” said Leago, reiterating his stance on the proposal. “It is my understanding that a loop around Madisonville will not be started until this project is finished. I have often wondered what would happen if an emergency vehicle needed to get to the east side of the county at four o’clock on a Friday. What would happen? Would there be enough time lost that a person might lose their life?”
He also stated that he would offer his full support if it meant that the Madisonville project would first be completed.
Leago offered his sympathies for anyone with impacted land from the proposed southern relief route. The county’s total share of the project comes out to around $1.2 million.
“(The Madisonville relief project) is a separate project altogether,” said Bryan’s TxDOT Public Information Officer Bob Colwell. “Once we start the process for this project, we will be working to have an area where we can put traffic around Madisonville. This is just the way the funding came out. We had more funding for this and it has been on the books longer than the relief route in Madisonville.” Construction on the loop around Madisonville is slated for 2025.
TxDOT officials set up informational booths for potentially impacted property owners as well as a map of the new portion of Highway 21. The proposed changes include reconstructing the corridor from two to four travel lanes, redesigning the roadway’s sharp curves to satisfy current design standards, adding a wide grass median between opposing lanes of traffic, reducing conflict points by providing median crossings and constructing a relief route on new location south of North Zulch.
The informational portion of the public hearing began at 6 p.m. and lasted just over half an hour.
The speakers from the public all agreed with Leago’s assessment of a greater need for a relief project in Madisonville. They also showed strong opposition to the North Zulch project altogether.
“I hate to think that our land is being taken based on these last two meetings with 50 people deciding something and 23 people deciding something,” said Sally Kankey, who lives on Highway 21 and spoke longer than anyone from the public. “Before the last meeting, I personally called and was told there was nothing new that would be presented. I am not sure how many others that may have disagreed with this southern loop would have missed the meeting if they had known that there would be a vote.”
Kankey owns land on the area of 21 known as “Hibbet’s Curve,” a dangerous turn in the roadway that has resulted in a number of accidents. The land has been in their family for 150 years and Kankey mentioned that they were the only family mentioned in the environmental assessment. She also stated that there were a number of errors in the study regarding their particular situation.
“I want to report that the real purpose of this project is to get people to College Station,” said Kankey. “This is the only road that goes into College Station that is not a divided, four-lane highway. The powers that be are pushing to get this road.”
Another lifelong resident, George Krohn, also cited issues in the environmental assessment and the impact it would have on the community.
“The environmental assessment is not a substitute for an environmental impact statement,” said Krohn, who penned a letter to the editor disputing the assessment in the June 5 publication of the Meteor. “The southern relief route will cause a significant impact. Two 30-foot high separations are proposed, will their presence be insignificant? Traffic patterns will change, will this be insignificant?”
TxDOT officials were not able to respond to the comments and questions while they were being made. The deadline for written comments, which will receive the same weight as verbal comments, is June 21.
Those interested in submitting written comments should contact Mark Poage, P.E. at 979-778-2165, or Mark.Poage@txdot.gov.