While still years away from being built, if at all, Texas Department of Transportation personnel on Monday presented a plan for an east-west bypass around the south of Madisonville.
TxDOT spokesman Bobby Colwell said that there are no funds set aside as of yet, as the project is still in the mid-planning stage. However, should everything fall into place, the earliest there could be a completed bypass is within five years.
“This came up two years ago,” he said. “The last time we were here, we showed the residents of Madison County a whole loop around the town, but now, we’ve just come back with the southern part.”
The goal would be to gather enough right of way to eventually make a four-lane bypass, which TxDOT would purchase, but initially only one lane in each direction would be built.
“It’s trying to get the big trucks around town instead of backing up in downtown Madisonville,” Colwell said.
Traffic studies show that traffic is increasing through the city every year, he said.
“Right now we have tubes out everywhere, which show more and more traffic on Texas 21, which also is U.S. 190,” Colwell said. “It’s growing, and more people are coming to Texas and more are using 21.”
Routing traffic away from downtown Madisonville has raised some concerns, particularly with downtown merchants. However, City Manager Camilla Viator said a relief route would open up possibilities.
“(The bypass) will take the 18-wheelers out of downtown,” she said. “They’re not stopping to shop or eat anyway, and then those that really want to be down here will be here.”
She said a new route could create opportunities for commercial land, and it could spur some big box stores to build.
“We need to develop some really good marketing on where the loop goes and let them know about our downtown,” she said. “A lot of towns already have loops, and it hasn’t killed their downtown area.”
The proposed relief route will be about 7.4 miles long and only impacts five structures on two properties, and does not displace any residences. Colwell said it would require the purchase of about 338 acres of right of way. The expected cost is $120 million to construct the initial and future phases of the project.
Initially, the plan would have required displacing eight residences; however, Colwell said the purpose of the meetings such as the one on Monday is to get feedback to make the plans better.
County Judge C.E. McDaniel said the project will be good for the county.
“(Madisonville) Mayor Bill Parten and I have seen these plans previously, and they’ve done an excellent job of missing people’s houses and minimizing any displacement,” he said. “What this is going to do, especially this southern route, will move the truck traffic from coming through the middle of downtown, and those coming up Highway 90 will be able to bypass the town.”
McDaniel acknowledged that these projects around small towns make people nervous, but it’s the price of progress — a necessary strategic move for the long term, and will improve the county.
“It’s inevitable that we’re going to grow, and we need to handle the traffic,” he said. “It’s going to change the dynamics of downtown, because what will happen is new businesses will start going up around the loop. What we need to do is to be proactive and create more interest in the downtown area.”