GROWING PROBLEM

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has scheduled a virtual public meeting for Tuesday, May 4 to present plans for expanding a 9-mile stretch of U.S. Hwy. 377 in rapidly growing Hood County, taking it from four lanes to six.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) may finally be ready to hit the gas on widening U.S. Hwy. 377, taking it from four lanes to six through the most congested part of Granbury.

TxDOT’s Fort Worth District office has scheduled a virtual public meeting for Tuesday, May 4 to present its proposal for widening a 9-mile stretch of 377, including the lake bridge where vehicle accidents frequently cause traffic jams. Citizens will have a two-week period for submitting comments.

While that news may thrill locals who deal daily with the county’s worsening traffic problems, there is bad news for those who interpret the virtual meeting as a sign that the cavalry is coming. On a normal timetable, such projects are in the works for years before the first shovelful of dirt is turned.

But there might be some good news.

That schedule could possibly be moved up if the Biden Administration’s $3 trillion infrastructure and jobs bill passes.

Granbury Mayor Nin Hulett said this week that he and other city officials are in communication with U.S. Rep. August Pfluger, state Sen. Brian Birdwell and state Rep. Glenn Rogers in hopes that Granbury will be among the first in line if federal funds are funneled through the state as part of a plan to improve the country’s highway system. He said that all three Republican elected officials have expressed a willingness to help.

“Funding is the biggest thing right now, not only state, but federal,” Hulett said. “We want to make sure that we’re on the books to get some of that money when it comes through to the states.”

The mayor said that TxDOT estimates that the expansion project will cost $150 million, though he personally feels that it will likely cost significantly more. The agency currently has $25 million set aside for Granbury, he said, but that modest amount will probably be quickly eaten up by engineering and environmental studies.

Hulett said that he, Mayor Pro Tem Tony Mobly and City Manager Chris Coffman held a Zoom meeting with some of TxDOT’s “big players” last week when the Granbury contingent traveled to Austin to hear Rogers read on the House floor a proclamation in honor of beloved local citizen and former councilman J.C. Campbell, who recently passed away. Hulett said that Rogers allowed them use of his office for the Zoom meeting, and one of his staffers sat in and took notes.

“I think somebody in Austin is starting to listen to us, which is a big step forward,” Mobly said. “They said all the right things. They said this is important.”

Hulett stated, “There are a lot of things that have to happen before they start moving dirt, but I believe we have gotten their attention.”

That said, though, city officials are asking for the public’s help to make sure that 377 stays at the forefront of prioritized highway improvements in Texas. That’s where the May 4 virtual meeting comes in.

PUBLIC’S HELP SOUGHT

By 6 p.m. that day, TxDOT’s Fort Worth District office will post online pre-recorded video presentations in English and Spanish detailing the proposed work. Plans are to widen and reconstruct, with a raised median, U.S. Hwy. 377 from Holmes Drive on the Tolar side of the county to 3,000 feet north of FM 167 (Fall Creek Highway). Plans also include a reconfiguration of the SH 144/377 intersection from Autumn Ridge Road (by Brookshires) to FM 51 (Paluxy Road), an area that spans 0.4 miles.

Improvements to cross street interchanges, ramps and driveway connections would be included. The proposed project also includes the addition of shared-use paths in each direction for bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, and drainage improvements along the highway corridor.

A TxDOT announcement of the meeting states that the proposed project could “require additional right-of-way and potentially displace residences and non-residential structures.”

Citizens will be able to submit comments about the plans from 6 p.m. May 4 through 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, May 19.

Hulett said that he “absolutely” wants local residents to comment and to leave no doubt with state transportation officials that rapidly growing Granbury and Hood County need help with its main traffic artery. He acknowledged that right-of-way issues could impact some businesses along the corridor.

“It’s going to affect some of them differently” from others, he stated. “Some, it’s going to get right in their parking lot.”

Mobly noted that while it is true that businesses will be affected, the problem is only going to grow worse as time goes on, especially if properties are divided up for further development.

Hulett cautioned that the community should expect the project to cause headaches similar to improvements that were made to 377 in Benbrook. During the lengthy construction period, there were challenges along the business-populated stretch of road regarding ingress and egress.

Both Hulett and Mobly said that they hear complaints virtually every day from people who want to know when something will be done to address Granbury’s traffic woes. Both said that money spent on the Cresson Relief Route, which is currently under construction and scheduled for completion next year, impeded the state’s ability to address 377 in Granbury, even though it was clear that the bypass around the railroad switching yard was badly needed.

“Basically, they put a bandage on one of the wounds and thought that would carry us through for a while,” Mobly said. “But with the growth we’re seeing, there’s no way they can ignore what’s going on here.”

As Democratic President Joe Biden works toward what he hopes will be bipartisan support of his infrastructure and jobs bill, Mobly, a Republican, said he will not hesitate to accept federal dollars if they are offered.

“The situation that I see is that we send plenty of money to Washington, and if they’re going to disperse it out to us minions, it would only make sense that we get some of that coming back to the community,” he said. “I just did my taxes, and I wouldn’t feel guilty about any of that money coming back to this community.”

To participate in the virtual meeting, go online to txdot.gov and enter US 377 Granbury into the search bar to find the link to the virtual public meeting. Once the meeting begins, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 4, the direct link will be visible, according to TxDOT spokesperson Bethany Kurtz.

Anyone who would like to participate in the virtual public meeting but who needs interpretation or translation services, or some other accommodation, can contact TxDOT’s Jillian North at 817-370-6817 no later than 4 p.m. Thursday, April 29.

kcruz@hcnews.com | 817-579-1886