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Concern and Optimism Surrounds the US 67 Corridor Master Plan

The US 67 Corridor Master Plan public meeting in Marfa. (Carlos Morales for Marfa Public Radio)

Last week, the Texas Department of Transportation hosted a series of meetings to gather public input about a major West Texas roadway — US 67. To some, it’s a welcome conversation about making this traveled path safer. But for others, the renewed talks are reminiscent of a contentious study years ago.

At the meetings for “US 67 Corridor Master Plan,” rooms were broken up into different stations. Representatives stood by to explain data collected by the agency, including information about crash rates and other safety issues along the corridor.

A total of a few hundred people showed up to the meetings that took place in Alpine, Fort Stockton, Marfa, and Presidio.  The purpose was to allow the public to provide input on the 142-mile stretch that goes from Fort Stockton down to the Presidio/Ojinaga border.

Vicky Carrasco works with Kleinman Consultants, an engineering firm contracting with TxDOT for this study. She says that short, mid-term, and long-term plans will arise out of ideas from participants. "Anything that’s proposed in the entire meeting will be reviewed by the public before it becomes a final plan," Carrasco explains. 

TxDOT is less than half-way through the two-year long study of the corridor. According to the agency, the average crash rate in Texas from 2010 to 2016 was about 67 crashes for every million vehicle miles traveled. For that same time period, the US 67 Corridor averaged a hundred crashes for every million vehicle miles traveled, more than 600 crashes. That's 150 percent higher than the state average during that same time period.

The agency hopes to reduce those numbers by figuring out problem areas on the highway. TxDOT maintains that they’re simply gathering comments, with no agenda in mind. They want recommendations on things like lighting, signage, and passing lanes.

However, some are still skeptical of the agency’s intent because of La Entrada al Pacifico, a study that was conducted about a decade ago. The purpose was to see if the route from the Permian Basin to Presidio warranted a four-lane highway for international trade — a significant highway expansion. At the time, some residents were worried about more traffic coming through the Big Bend area. Although this expansion didn’t happen, it still feels like a threat to some residents within the corridor.

At the meeting in Marfa, Bill Addington, an environmentalist from Sierra Blanca, was unconvinced by TxDOT's stated goals. "I mean, call me a conspiracy theorist if you want, but this looks really similar to the La Entrada project," he says. 

However, Chris Weber, the Alpine-Area Engineer for TxDOT, says that expansion is not part of the master plan. "I did receive a copy of the La Entrada al Pacifico results that were never released to the public. One of the most beautiful things to me in that study that wasn't published was the data did not warrant a 4-lane divided highway," he says.

Weber explains that an expansion is infeasible, simply because current and future traffic projections don’t call for those kinds of changes. The agency also says there are no personnel currently working on the US 67 study who worked on the La Entrada al Pacifico project.

Coyne Gibson, a volunteer with the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, has some reservations about the master plan. But for now, he’s optimistic. "The study I think is a good thing. It’s hard to argue against public safety improvement or reducing congestion. And to the extent that this is a study that is nominally half-way through, I’m gonna give it the benefit of the doubt," he says.

TxDOT anticipates the next round of meetings to take place in the fall. The public  will be able to see potential solutions for the corridor based on feedback.

The most common themes people addressed last week were safety and emergency response. Additionally, participants expressed interest in the need for more passing lanes, rest areas, turn lanes, alternate routes, intersection improvements, and sidewalk and bicycle connectivity.

Additional online resources:

  • An online portal has been developed for the public to join in the conversation. Here participants can make a profile, find specific areas of concern and leave a comment or question.
  • An online mapping tool (Corridor Planning Tool) has been developed to share information collected thus far:
Diana Nguyen is a reporter for Marfa Public Radio.