Local residents, community leaders and politicos talked safety, cycling and financing Toll 49, among other topics, Thursday in Tyler during a regional transportation meeting.
The five-member Texas Transportation Commission, which governs the Texas Department of Transportation, met for its monthly meeting at the county's R.B. Hubbard Center in Tyler.
The commission discussed statewide agenda items regarding road projects and safety but local topics, such as safety, cycling and financing Toll 49 and other highway projects, were discussed.
Sens. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, joined area Reps. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola and Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches. They welcomed commissioners and expressed their views on transportation needs for the region and state.
The delegation expressed support of the constitutional amendment that would increase transportation funding more than $1 billion annually. Differing opinions were given regarding other funding mechanisms, such as creating more dedicated revenues via tax increases or a Transportation Reinvestment Zone, for long-term local and statewide funding solutions.
Smith County is days into a 30-day public comment period regarding creation of a Transportation Reinvestment Zone along the Toll 49 corridor. The zone has received mixed responses from residents.
Tyler district engineer for TxDOT Randy Hopmann made a presentation to commissioners regarding his district's increased population and miles traveled. The district has added very little capacity, while the number of cars on the road and travel has increased dramatically over the decade.
"Growth here has surpassed the infrastructure available," he said.
The Tyler district includes Anderson, Cherokee, Gregg, Henderson, Rusk, Smith, Van Zandt and Wood counties.
Commissioner Jeff Austin III, of Tyler, said adding capacity and preserving the system is the goal for TxDOT statewide, but that local leaders have many more tools available to expedite projects viewed as necessary to accommodate growth, such as Toll 49.
Austin said there are many ongoing projects moving forward as a comprehensive way to address regional mobility. He said consideration of the Transportation Reinvestment Zone would be a good tool for local transportation officials to add and improve capacity.
Transportation commissioners met with regional leaders Wednesday to discuss needs and options regarding future population growth and adding capacity to address safety and traffic concerns.
"Everything is on the table as we move forward," he said. "Hearing what people have to say in their hometown is important since we represent the whole state. We're hearing ‘how can we help (move projects forward)?' from local leaders."
Resident John Adair, an avid cyclist, addressed commissioners regarding the closure of Toll 49 to cyclists. He said he appreciated the state's efforts and asked that they assist in educating drivers about sharing the road with cyclists.
Adair said much of the conversation during the meeting regarded safety and that the North East Texas Regional Mobility decision to prohibit bicycle access to Toll 49 ran counter to the agency's stated goal.
He said he would like to see more initiatives, including placement of road signs warning drivers that certain state roads are heavily traveled by cyclists.
"We just want the state to make bicycle safety a priority because it cycling is growing and motorists need to be educated and made aware," he said.