A transportation committee was in place years ago and dissolved. However, this year's Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce chairman, Nathan Jones, decided he wanted to bring the group back as part of the chamber.
“This is my year to be chamber chair, and you try to evaluate what you think is important to your community in East Texas, and having transportation needs addressed is important,” Jones said. “Economic growth is tied to the ability of people to come to our area.”
The committee's aim is to “advise on transportation objectives and priorities within Jacksonville, as well as transportation projects and funding.” It has met twice.
Among those involved with the committee are Oncor; the Texas Department of Transportation; the Cherokee County Electric Cooperative Association; the Jacksonville chamber, residents throughout different communities; officials from the City of Jacksonville; State Rep. Chuck Hopson; and people from chambers and cities in the surrounding areas.
Jones said the transportation committee already has had success in soliciting support for a U.S. Highway 79 expansion project that will widen the roadway from the Trinity River area to Palestine to four lanes. The four-year project is expected to start later this year.
“It's about looking at needs, prioritizing goals and then figuring out what we need to do to reach those goals through cooperation. We've had some good meetings and had some good support,” he said.
That entails resolutions for widening U.S. Highway 79 between Buffalo and Carthage and U.S. Highway 69 in the Wells area.
Jones said that area of U.S. Highway 69 serves as a route for hurricane evacuees, and the two lanes there now present a safety issue for those fleeing the coast.
As far as U.S. Highway 79, Traylor said the committee wants to ensure that it's easy to get distribution trucks through the area.
He also cited improving U.S. Highway 175 from Henderson County to Jacksonville and improving Texas Highway 204 as potential projects to consider because the roadways help provide connectivity to Dallas. He said Texas Highway 204 currently has limited passing ability.
According to the transportation committee brochure, other projects to possibly look at include a relief route on the new outer loop in Jacksonville; congestion at U.S. Highway 69 North and Troup Highway intersections; assisting with runway/navigation upgrades at the Cherokee County Airport; and adding a rail spur to the Jacksonville Economic Development Corp. Business Park.
“The main thing of this committee is to see what concerns and what needs there are in order to move transportation through the city, whether it be … rail or moving tourists through or hurricane evacuations, what are the needs for transportation to make those things flow through the city at more ease than it is now?” Traylor said.
The more traffic that comes through the county the better it is economically because those people will stay in hotels and buy gas, he said.
The committee also reached out to surrounding counties to see what it would take to get more traffic flow in the area.
“We're trying to work as region…,” he said. “As we grow and as the rural areas grow outside urban areas, we need traffic flow to be as easy as possible and to be able to grow our area.”
“In the end, rural East Texas wins in their areas for economics because of the convenience they can get through their transportation,” he said.
Traylor said once the committee does have resolutions of support for certain projects, it can talk with the Texas Department of Transportation about funding and the need for the project.
Meanwhile, though, he said transportation committee members are working with municipalities, counties, chambers, economic development corporations and school districts to educate them on what the committee is doing and ask them to get on board with resolutions.
Committee members also will do a survey to find out what transportation issues people think are important.
Residents who want more information on the committee or to give input can contact Traylor at 903-683-5060, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce at 903-586-2217 or Jones at 903-586-1526.