TxDOT moving forward on Hwy 21 widening

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Madison County Judge Tony Leago is feeling a bit out of the loop when it comes to upcoming road projects.

The Texas Department of Transportation will take one step closer to the planned widening of Highway 21 from the Navasota River to just Trinity St., just shy of downtown Madisonville with June 6 public hearing in North Zulch. The hearing will give a chance for public review and comment on the projects Draft Environmental Assessment, a necessary component for any road building. The project will replace the current two-lane highway with a four-lane divided highway to improve safety and increase mobility.

But Leago thinks TxDOT may have gotten things a little out of order.

“The thing, of course, I really wanted was for them to build a bypass around Madisonville first,” Leago said. “People would have been jubilant for a loop.”

Leago worries that the widening of the existing highway will lead to an increase in traffic going through Madisonville, where the road will retain its current configuration.

“There’s going to be a lot of people that think ‘if I can just gut it out through town, it’s four lanes all the way to College Station’,” he said. “A loop would have taken all the truck traffic out of the city.”

TxDOT does have plans to build a loop around the south side of the city – from FM 1452, circling around to rejoin 21 400-500 yards past Buc-Ee’s -- but that project will not begin until after completion of the Highway 21 project. And TxDOT officials are a little more confident about the current plan.

“The widening of SH 21 through Madison County and the loop of Madisonville are priority projects for TxDOT,” Bobby Colwell, communications director for TxDOT’s Bryan District, said in an e-mail Tuesday. “Both are under development with the intent to begin construction as soon as plans can be completed.

“The project to widen SH 21 through Madison County has progressed more quickly as a widening along an existing roadway is more straightforward to develop. This project is expected to be ready for construction in 2021.”

The proposed loop around Madisonville is scheduled for construction in 2025, he said.

The proposed widening of Highway 21 across 17.8 miles will include a relief route south of North Zulch, where the existing highway will not be widened, according to TxDOT documents.

The proposed rejuvenated highway will comprise two 12-food wide travel lanes in each direction with a 68-foot median. There would be two grade-separated overpasses on the route, at FM 39/Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway and at Zulch Road.

“Based on a review of crash records, a total of 218 crashes were recorded within the limits of the proposed project between the years 2012 and 2017 resulting in 16 fatalities and 27 serious injuries,” Colwell said. “The proposed project addresses safety issues with a redesign of the roadway’s curves and by constructing a median to separate opposing traffic.”

According to TxDOT documents, the project will require an additional 384 acres of right-of-way easement that could potentially displace five occupied residences, five abandoned residences and nine sheds and other structures.

Madison County will bear part of the cost of any new easement acquisitions. According to Leago, the county’s part of the bill will total around $1.3 million, though much less than the original estimate of $3 million. The county will pay that bill off over five years.

“It’s five years, same as cash,” Leago said.

The project, according to Leago is fully funded and engineered, though there are still hurdles like the June 6 public review and hearing. TxDOT officials will host the meeting in the North Zulch High School cafeteria. They will begin with a 4:30 p.m. open house with a presentation and the opening of a formal comment period at 6 p.m.

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