Roger Ledbetter of TxDOT’s Mount Pleasant office said the agency is $18 billion in debt, “looking to partner with local communities,” and that the local Rotarians “need to get the community thinking about” relieving congestion in Gilmer on U.S. 271.
Ledbetter said his agency’s debt resulted from gasoline taxes, which fund most projects, not keeping up with inflation. He said TxDOT needs about $4 billion additional funds yearly, and that the agency hopes that is approved in the current legislative session, but that the increased funding will not take effect for two more years.
“If you wait for us to build a project on our own, you may be waiting a long time,” he said. Noting that Camp County is paying $2 million on a project for which TxDOT is now buying right of way, Ledbetter said, “You (local governments) have to put some money in.
“TxDOT’s always looking for partnerships. That’s the best way to get a project done. I’m hoping the funding situation will change for TxDOT” or roads will not “get any better,” the engineer asserted.
Discussing Gilmer’s traffic situation, Ledbetter said almost 21,000 vehicles pass through the city per day, and that number will rise to 30,000. He said making left turns out of driveways and onto streets is difficult, and that the number of accidents has increased.
“One of the biggest problems we’re going to have in Gilmer” is congestion at the intersection of 271 and Texas 154, the engineer said. And when the traffic count in the city hits 30,000 daily, “You’re not going like it very much,” Ledbetter added.
The only way to relieve congestion on 271 is giving motorists “alternate routes” to avoid the aforementioned intersection, he said.
“You need to get the community thinking about this,” Ledbetter told the Rotarians, noting.that perhaps farm-to-market roads could be constructed to tie existing highways in the Gilmer area together.
He said the solution was working toward a “common goal,” noting that Titus County voters approved a bond issue so the county could borrow money to fund a $168 million loop in Mount Pleasant.
The chamber of commerce there began work on obtaining the loop, and it took years for citizens to agree concerning the matter, Ledbetter said.
“You’re not going to get that big a loop built at one time” in Gilmer, he said, but “there’s all kinds of options” to relieve the congestion at 271 and 154. However, “these projects take time to develop” and would require 15 years from right now, Ledbetter added.
Asked by a member of the audience about the long waiting times for red lights on 271 locally, the speaker quoted a fellow TxDOT engineer as saying they are operating “about as efficiently as you can.” Ledbetter said their timing adapts to traffic, and that changing it would hold up traffic on side streets.
The red lights are computer-controlled at all times, he noted.
He also said his department will improve Texas 300 in Upshur County, starting probably two months from now. Asked by an audience member when potholes would be filled, he said he hoped “pretty soon” since there are many of them.
Elaborating on his point about partnerships, Ledbetter alluded to printed material he had handed out in which Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt and Texas Transportation Commissioner Victor Vandergriff commented on how their counties were willing to join TxDOT in financing proposed projects. Vandergriff said relieving congestion helps economic opportunities.
As for TxDOT’s funding situation, Gilmer City Manager Jeff Ellington, speaking from the audience, told Ledbetter, “If you don’t get some political help in Austin, it won’t happen.”
Ledbetter said state representatives will “listen to you if you’ve got a good coalition of people.” He also noted that when Mount Pleasant resident Bill Ratliff was lieutenant governor, Ratliff “helped us a bunch” to procure the loop there.
“To get political backing, you’ve got to get the community working together,” Ledbetter said. State officials will pay no attention “if you’re all going in separate directions,” he warned.