Cyclists raise funds for Toll 49 safety upgrades

Published on Thursday, 20 June 2013 19:21 - Written by BY ADAM RUSSELL

Members of the Tyler Bicycle Club say they have reached the fundraising goal to pay for striping and safety upgrades along portions of Toll 49.

In March, Northeast Texas Regional Mobility board members voted to allow bicycle access on Segments 1, 2 and 5, a 10-mile stretch connecting Texas Highway 155 near Noonday to Texas Highway 110 near Whitehouse. Bicycles are prohibited on Segments 3A and 3B, from Texas Highway 155 to Interstate 20.

The agreement was contingent upon the “bicycling community” funding the total cost of safety improvements, including striping and signs, along the three segments by the board’s July 9 meeting. Cost estimates by NETRMA staff for striping a 4-foot-wide bicycle lane near the outside edge of Toll 49’s shoulder and signage was $60,000.

Tyler Simpson, a member of the bicycle club and owner of Simpson’s Fitness & Adventure Sports, said the group raised the money and will meet with NETRMA officials, engineers and a local striping company today to discuss the next steps.

“We’re cautiously excited,” he said. “We know nothing is guaranteed, but we’re hopeful this is the beginning of a great public/private relationship that we can build on.”

Some NETRMA board members expressed concerns about cyclists riding on the high-speed, two-lane road. Safety for drivers and bicyclists is priority No. 1, they said.

To bicyclists, Toll 49 is the safest connection route available because it has limited access, wide shoulders and open stretches with good visibility for motorists and bicyclists.

Traffic on completed portions of the toll road has increased as each segment opened, but the connection to I-20 is expected to draw 60 percent more traffic to the road. The speed limit on Toll 49 is 70 mph.

Everett Owen, NETRMA’s interim executive director, could not be reached for comment by press time. In a past interview, Owen said there are no easy answers to assuage safety concerns for officials opposed to bicycle access or cyclist’s opinion Toll 49 is the safest route available to them.

Final approval of the striping and signage would be subject to NETRMA board’s approval.

Simpson said much of the $60,000 came from businesses including, Texas Spine and Joint Hospital, East Texas Medical Center and Trinity Mother Frances, and other local employers.

“I’m still shaking my head on the amount of support we’ve gotten,” he said. “It proves this is something the public wants.”