Get over it: TxDOT projects addresses frontage road barriers
Since the Texas Department of Transportation’s widening of U.S. Expressway 77/83 in Brownsville was completed in late 2007, northbound and southbound frontage roads have been barricaded at the Union Pacific railroad tracks north of the 77 Flea Market, forcing traffic back onto the frontage road in the opposite direction.
A new TxDOT project will allow motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians to go over the barricades instead of being forced into a U-turn. The $10.5 million project, which broke ground last April, will feature overpasses for both frontage roads plus a separate overpass for pedestrians and bicycles adjacent to the northbound frontage road.
The overpasses will stretch from 0.35 miles north of Old Alice/Stillman Road to 0.4 miles south of Merryman Road/Sports Park Boulevard, according to TxDOT. Most of the construction is being done inside existing right-of-way, though approximately 1.4 acres of additional right-of-way was required for the pedestrian/bicycle portion, though it did not effect any structures, according to the agency. TxDOT’s latest estimated completion date is February 2020.
Mark Lund, director of the Brownsville Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the barricades have created more than one safety issue, such as cutting off traffic diversion routes in the event of pileups on I-69E that necessitate closing all lanes north or south.
Likewise, the northbound barrier removes two additional lanes for hurricane evacuation, he said. Bicyclists trying to get to the Brownsville Sports Park from the south are faced with a 10-mile detour, meanwhile.
Although bicycles and pedestrians are not allowed on I-69E, a cyclist was struck and killed trying to get to the Sports Park via the expressway in a nighttime accident several years ago, Lund said.
The MPO included the overpass project in a 2014 long-range transportation plan, and the city brought it to the attention of state officials, he said.
“We had it under ‘discretionary funding,’” Lund said. “It wasn’t any guarantee it would get funded, but having it listed in the plan, city staff shared this information with the state legislators.”
State Rep. Eddie Lucio III. D-Brownsville, got involved, sent a letter to TxDOT, and got the ball rolling, Lund said. TxDOT’s Pharr District Office hosted a public meeting for the project in 2016. Lund credits the city for pushing the project at the state level to help make it happen.
“We are very pleased to see this,” he said. “This is one of the things that we’re really proud of.”