Council gives nod for downtown project

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Plans are near completion for the roundabout planned for the intersection of Loop 332 and County Road 279, and following a short presentation from Steger Bizzell, the engineer for the project, the City Council voted 4-1 on Monday to approve moving forward with the project into the bid phase.

“What we’re wanting is for Council to give us approval to do final design and move the project forward through the bid process,” said City Administrator Greg Boatright.

Engineering plans are at 90 percent completion, and the presentation highlighted the need for the roundabout and expected benefits.

“When the discussions were first brought up, the City looked at creating a T intersection, and realized it would involve taking some property and Loop 332 would have to be rerouted to come in at a 90-degree angle and it would take a lot of the trees that are there currently,” said Patrick Hubbard with Steger Bizzell. “So a roundabout was proposed.”

In addition to completion of the plans, takeover of Loop 332 by the City – which is in the works with Texas Department of Transportation – will need to take place before the roundabout project could begin.

Key benefits of a roundabout at the intersection revolve around safety and speed control.

“There is very little opportunity for a head-on collision with a roundabout,” Hubbard said. “Most collisions would just be a sideswipe, so it reduces the number of crashes.”

A roundabout will also shorten drive times moving traffic through more efficiently, control speeds in the area, and will reduce maintenance costs without the need to maintain signals.

Hubbard said the roundabout as planned will accommodate large vehicles better than the current intersection.

“During our design we looked at everything from fire trucks and school buses all the way up to a 75-foot semi-truck and tailored our design to accommodate each of those,” he said. “The design we are proposing would allow larger truck traffic than the existing intersection does now.”

The roundabout will have three entrances and four exits.

“The three entrances are both sides of Loop 332 and County Road 279, and the fourth additional exit is the one-way exit on Munro Street,” Hubbard said.

The plan is to provide landscaping and a city entrance sign with the roundabout, with options for a variety of local plants and trees, and three sign options. No action was taken on preferences for the landscaping, which will be decided at a later point in the process. Hubbard also addressed the new parking lot on the northeast corner of the project, which has been initially designed to have 34 parking spaces.

“The scope of the project was increased later in the summer to include parking improvements,” Hubbard said. “And recently we have been coordinating with adjacent projects being designed, namely Wetzel Park and the shared use path that will be on the north side of Loop 332. This would add quite a few parking spaces to the downtown area and would serve as a landscape area and a focal point as you enter the city.”

As with the initial discussions of the roundabout in January, effort has been made in the parking lot design to accommodate the Council’s desire to preserve the trees in the area.

“We have come at this trying to preserve as many of the trees in that lot as we could,” Hubbard said. “Right now we are only proposing removing four trees. There’s a large concrete silo on the site as well and we have tried to preserve that as well.”

Council member Liz Rundzieher was the lone no vote on the project, saying the first focus in terms of downtown traffic should be the intersection of Loop 332 and RR 1869.

“We have traffic backing up now, back to the loop, going north,” Rundzieher said. “If you have more traffic coming through, where’s it going to go when it gets back to the roundabout? Spending all this money on the roundabout isn’t going to help that much because of 1869. I feel we need to do 1869 before we do the roundabout.”

Boatright said that intersection was the next issue on the table, but was more involved because even after the City takes over Loop 332, it will still have to work with Texas Department of Transportation because RR 1869 remains a state road.

“I think 1869 is the next thing we tackle, putting in some turn lanes,” Boatright said. “What a roundabout does for our downtown area is it moves traffic more efficiently, but it has a traffic calming effect to where you don’t have those 45-mile-per-hour people coming around the curve into our downtown. They have to slow down and they have to come through at a much safer speed.

“By taking this first step and addressing what is probably the most difficult intersection for us to navigate in our downtown area, simply because there’s a lot of mixed signals when you get to that intersection.”

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