A March agreement for cyclists to access segments of Toll 49 will depend on a July vote by members of an area mobility authority board despite successful fundraising efforts to pay for improvements along the route.
In March, Northeast Texas Regional Mobility board members voted to allow bicycle access on Segments 1, 2 and 5, a 10-mile stretch connecting Texas Highway 155 near Noonday to Texas Highway 110 near Whitehouse. Bicycles are prohibited on Segments 3A and 3B, from Texas Highway 155 to Interstate 20.
The agreement was contingent upon the "bicycling community" raising $60,000 to pay for improvements, including striping and signs, along the three segments by the board's July 9 meeting in Texarkana. The cost estimates for signage and striping a 4-foot-wide bicycle lane near the outside edge of Toll 49's shoulder were made by NETRMA staff.
On Thursday, Tyler Bicycle Club member Tyler Simpson announced the group had raised the money to pay for improvements. He expressed optimism that the project would move forward but that he understands the agreement could be scuttled by the board.
The interim director for the NETRMA Toll 49 project Everett Owen met with cyclist representatives Friday morning. He called discussions about the next steps to bring the project to fruition "very positive." Owen would not speculate about the governing board's position on sticking to the agreement.
Among the nine board members who approved the agreement at the March meeting, two opposed because of safety concerns, four expressed opinions that access for cyclists improves "quality of life" for the region, while three showed indifference.
NETRMA staff estimated connection to Interstate 20 would increase the number of transactions on Toll 49 to more than 16,000 per day. In 2020, more than 26,000 transactions per day are expected, Owen said. However, since the connection, daily transactions have eclipsed the 2020 numbers, peaking at around 30,000 daily transactions on weekends, Everett said.
Board members opposed to bicycles on Toll 49 expressed concerns about cyclists riding on the high-speed, two-lane road. Safety for drivers and bicyclists is priority No. 1, they said.
To bicyclists, Toll 49 is the safest connection route available because it has limited access, wide shoulders and open stretches with good visibility for motorists and bicyclists
The agreement "passed with the idea that we would revisit it in three years but we're past those traffic levels now," Owen said. "The road is getting a lot more traffic than anticipated but whether that represents additional safety concerns for the board remains to be seen."