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Home News-Telegram News Lack of right-of-way funding holds back SH 154 improvements, but one project to widen 1.5 miles should begin early in 2010

Lack of right-of-way funding holds back SH 154 improvements, but one project to widen 1.5 miles should begin early in 2010

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State highway construction crews should start adding shoulders and a turning lane to about 1.5 miles or State Highway 154 in the area of the Seymore community in early 2010.

That was one message delivered by Bobby Littlefield, Paris District Engineer for Texas Department of Transportation, at an informal and informational meeting with about 40 nearby residents at Seymore Church of Christ.
Littlefield said he can’t guarantee the work, one of three remaining planned phases to widen SH 154 from south of Sulphur Springs to the Wood County line, will be bid on in December. An unforeseen hurricane could deplete the department’s resources, for example.
But Littlefield, a native of Sulphur Springs who is familiar with the problems on the highway, did say he was “95 percent” sure that the funding will be there and the bids will meet the budget.
He said a struggling economy has cut the state’s budgeted expenditures — he estimated available funding for construction in the most recent fiscal year was down about one-third from the year before — that has also meant companies that work on government contracts have been going through some lean times financially.
“There’s a very good chance I’ll get good bids, because our contractors are very hungry right now,” Littlefield said.
The meeting was held to update local residents on efforts to make the highway south of Sulphur Springs safer. The narrow road, poor sight lines, numerous blind spots and other factors have been blamed for numerous fatal crashes. Earlier this year, TxDoT officials decided to lower the speed limit from 65 to 60 miles per hour, put in larger speed limit and warning signs, shore up eroding edges of the roadway, and add a raised stripe on the side of the road that warns motorists when their vehicles are about to run off the highway.
The upcoming project will cover the 1.5 miles of highway between FM 1567 east near Big Smith’s Bar-B-Q restaurant and FM 1567 west at the turnoff to Arbala. The work will add shoulders as well as turn lane, which should make traffic safety in the area because of the number of private driveways along that stretch of road. The cost of the work is expected to be $3.9 million.
“That sounds like a lot, but in the world of road construction, that’s the going rate,” Littlefield said.
The work should take 13 to 16 months to complete. Once that project is completed, two more phases of work will remain — a 1.8 mile stretch of highway from FM 1567 south to the Wood County line, and another area about five miles long from FM 1567 north to Shook’s Chapel.
The ultimate goal is to create a two-way highway with 12-foot lanes and 10-foot shoulders on each side all the way to the Wood County line.
But those projects are being delayed temporarily because of the cost of right of way that would be necessary to purchase to flatten out hills and valleys, thus improving sight lines and eliminating most blind spots. Littlefield said his budget has no money for purchasing right of way.
Littlefield explained that any time right of way is purchased for a highway project, the state supplies 80 percent of funding and local governments the other 02 percent.
He noted that Hopkins County’s elected officials have put $200,000 in escrow for the right of way purchase on SH 154 south.
“They’ve done that,” he said. “I’ve not held up my end because I don’t have any money for right of way.”
He did say, however, that he hopes to receive as much as $500,000 for right of way purchase in the fiscal year 2011 budget, which goes into effect Sept 1, 2011.
In the meantime, he added, TxDoT engineers are looking at different options to reduce the need for right of way purchases. In the initial plans for the project from Sulphur Springs to the Wood County line, planners believed some 40 acres would have to be purchased. That figure, however, has already been whittled down to 19. Littlefield said it’s possible further changes could get that number down as low as three or four acres.

 

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