Plans progress on highway bypass

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Plans for a southern highway bypass around Madisonville linking Highway 21 to I-45 and beyond are still on the table, TxDOT engineers said last week.

At a meeting of the Hochheim Prairie Insurance Board on Feb. 20, Texas Department of Transportation engineers Andrew Holick and Doug Marino said that traffic is expected to increase in both directions of 21, based on studies performed by TxDOT recently.

“A relief route would help get traffic out of the core part of the city,” Holick said. “It would be easier for local folks to get around.”

One of the problems with Texas 21 in town is it’s too narrow, he said.

“A lot of what was built here around the courthouse was built before there was a highway department,” he said. “It’s a narrow right of way, and in some cases, there are sidewalks and walkways that technically are in the state right of way.”

Most of the traffic coming through town is truck traffic; Holick said that currently about 13,000 vehicles per day come through Madisonville, and that is expected to increase to about 18,500 per day by the year 2035.

“That’s more damage to the road, and in some cases, more damage to buildings,” he said. “It makes is more inconvenient to get to downtown business or the courthouse.”

Safety also is a concern, and is another reason to continue with the relief project, he said; there is what TxDOT considers a high crash rate on 21, with 200 crashes, including one fatality, occurring within the last five years.

Additionally, issues exist where 21 crosses I-45, he said.

Marino said the department has been looking at the project since 2013; as of now, the only portion of the project that is being considered is a southern right, and after analysis and public meetings, it has been narrowed down to one preferred alternative.

“Right now the project is unfunded,” he said. “We still have a ways to go in the process, but a project of this magnitude will be very expensive.”

Marino said the project on the southern route was broken into four sections, which could mean that funding would be released to work on specific parts of the project, not as a whole.

Marino also said the project would be approached with the future in mind; it would start as a two-lane road, but could grow to four lanes.

Toward the end of 2019, there would be a hearing process and an environmental evaluation; the next process of the project could take two to three years, and construction conceivably could start by 2023.

Holick said construction time per section would take anywhere from 18 months to three years.

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