Smith County Commissioners joined an effort to speed up the state’s timeline for making improvements to U.S. Highway 271.
The roadway runs from Tyler to Paris, Texas - specifically from Texas Highway 31 and Texas Highway 155 down to Loop 286 and U.S. Highway 82 in Paris.
The state has scheduled various improvements and upgrades to the road, including widening it, adding turn lanes and medians in various locations. Those improvements are anticipated to be done in pieces, and the Texas Department of Transportation, TxDOT, doesn’t anticipate moving forward until between 2020 and 2025, depending on the portion of roadway.
On Tuesday, the Smith County Commissioners Court approved a two-page resolution brought forth by the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority, the governmental agency that operates Toll 49, to get construction started sooner.
The same resolution will be brought forward to other county, city and school board entities in seven counties - Smith, Gregg, Upshur, Camp, Titus, Lamar and Red River counties.
The hope is to show the Texas Transportation Commission, which makes funding schedules and decisions for TxDOT, unified support for the project and get the ball rolling sooner.
There’s heavy competition for transportation funding in the state.
Texas metro areas get the lion’s share of road funding. The big counties get roughly 85 percent of allocated dollars, leaving 15 percent for the rest of the counties to fight over, said Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin III.
Austin said the Transportation Commission will be working on its short and long-range funding plans this spring and summer, and having unified support is an important consideration.
“A lot of consensus helps us, and our staff, to make decisions,” Austin said. “I applaud the commissioners court and other entities up and down the corridor for working together - when you have regions working together, that goes a long way.”
The corridor stretches seven counties and includes portions of three TxDOT districts. The agency has 25 multi-county districts, which oversee the construction and maintenance of state highways. They are not responsible for county roads or city streets.
The total population impacted by the corridor is 494,911, as of 2015.
There also are 42,486 businesses impacted, as well as their 211,532 employees, according to the NET RMA.
“The good news is there’s a lot of traffic, and most of it (work on the road) needs to be done for safety and to help traffic move back and forth,” Austin said.
TxDOT plans to spend $310 million on improvements to U.S. Highway 271 over the next 10 years, according to NET RMA. That includes plans from the three districts.
The Tyler District has hired a consultant to begin schematic and environmental coordination work for the expansion of U.S. 271, from Farm-to-Market Road 16 in Smith County, northeast to the Upshur County line, said Vernon Webb, Tyler District Deputy District Engineer.
That work includes expanding the two-lane roadway to a four-lane road, divided by a median.
It also includes schematic development and environmental coordination on the expansion of Loop 485, around Gladewater, to a four-lane, divided roadway with a continuous left turn lane, Webb said.
The project is projected to be ready for construction in 2022, if funding is available.
The total construction cost is estimated at $70 million, but funding is not yet available, he said.