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TxDOT to narrow MacArthur, add sidewalks

 

Last updated 4/21/2020 at Noon



Dave Rogers

For The Record

The Texas Department of Transportation is asking for public comment on a plan to replace two traffic lanes of MacArthur Drive with sidewalks on either side.

The number to call is 409-898-5732 or email [email protected] .

The change is an $800,000 “pedestrian safety improvement project,” and it seems like it’s a done deal. The TxDOT news release that announced it Monday said it “is currently scheduled to go out for bids in late summer.”

“Essentially, it’s just paint and signage,” Mike Kunst, Orange city manager, said. “From meetings I’ve attended, I understand TxDOT has been charged to increase what they call ‘non-motorist connectivity.’ This comes out of a separate pot of money than their road-building.”

The project affects a half-mile of MacArthur Drive, currently a seven-lane roadway, between Katherine Street and Alder Street.

Katherine Street is just east of the junction of Strickland, Edgar Brown and MacArthur Drives.

Just east of Katherine Street on the north side of MacArthur is Boogie’s Express Car Wash #2. On the southeast side of MacArthur at Katherine is Shipley’s Do-Nuts.

Alder Street is about 500 yards west of Adams Bayou. To the south of the Alder/MacArthur Drive intersection is Auto Zone Auto Parts. North of that intersection is NAPA Auto Parts.

Scuttlebutt about the change, which surfaced online several months ago when a reporter encountered a TxDOT crew out surveying MacArthur Drive, included new bike lanes and sidewalks replacing the east- and westbound vehicle lanes.

The current plan, not currently available online, says nothing about bicycles.

“Just a sidewalk,” said Sarah Dupre, TxDOT public information officer.

Also missing are any immediate plans to add street lighting.

“But the proposed project would allow for a possible future lighting project,” said a news release from TxDOT issued Monday.

In recent years, there have been several car-pedestrian accidents – some fatal --on MacArthur Drive that were blamed, at least partially, on the lack of streetlights.

While the property north of MacArthur Drive for the length of the project lies within the Pinehurst city limits and the property on the south side of MacArthur is in West Orange, the street, itself, is in the City of Orange limits.

However, streetlights fall under the jurisdiction of TxDOT, which is responsible for maintenance of MacArthur Drive since it’s actually a state highway, Texas Highway 87.

“To me, if they don’t include lighting you’re going to have more problems with pedestrians and cars than they do now,” Pinehurst Mayor Dan Mohon said.

“And if they’re only going to do a sidewalk, it looks to me like they could do it without taking away a traffic lane.”

Currently, the section of roadway under discussion is more than 100 feet across and has only a yellow blinking light crosswalk on the west side of the intersection between MacArthur and Henrietta, site of the Granger Chevrolet showroom.

Anyone crossing the street has a hurried walk of 30-plus yards across oncoming traffic traveling 40 and 45 miles per hour, a trip that would be shortened by a few seconds if two traffic lanes were removed.

Today, MacArthur has three eastbound lanes and three westbound lanes with a left-turn lane in the middle and wide shoulders on either side.

TxDOT’s plan calls for two 12-foot wide vehicle lanes on either side of a 14-foot center lane “left turn bay.” Outside the main east- and westbound traffic lanes would be 10-foot shoulders. Then, there would be four feet outside those set aside for “buffer” lanes with “tuff curb and flex delineators,” then 8-foot wide sidewalks.

Tuff curbs are short yellow risers, approximately 6 inches wide by 3 or 4 inches tall, and they’re designed to hold flex delineators, which are spring resistant poles 3 to 4 feet tall covered with reflectors and designed to separate traffic.

Additionally, the design will use overhead crossing warning signs at the intersections of MacArthur and Henrietta and MacArthur and Donnel, near Papa John’s Pizza, and “truncated domes” to mark those crosswalks for the visually impaired.

Truncated domes are yellow warning tiles now required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I guess it all depends on who you ask,” Kunst, the Orange city manager, said when asked if it was a good trade off to give up two traffic lanes to add sidewalks.

“I’m not going to suggest there are a lot of pedestrians and bicyclists right now, but perhaps there would be if there was a safe place to ride a bike. And it’s safer to walk down a sidewalk than it is a street.”

According to TxDOT’s annual average daily traffic counts, that stretch of MacArthur Drive is traveled 21,307 times per day, just a bit over half the daily traffic that goes up and down Texas Avenue (Texas 87) in Bridge City or College Street (U.S. 90) in Beaumont.

H-E-B announced in 2016 that it planned to build a medium sized grocery store at the site of a then-vacant and now-cleared shopping center across MacArthur’s from Granger Chevrolet.

Those plans were delayed by Tropical Storms Harvey in 2017 and Imelda in 2018, which caused the San Antonio-based business to spend many millions rebuilding stores.

“We’re kind of in limbo on that,” Mohon said. “We’ve been told they will not build in Orange until 2021.”

Similarly, the decision on whether or not to build a multi-billion-dollar Chevron Phillips Chemical plant in Orange County, has been delayed – if not jeopardized – by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crash.

“If H-E-B and Chevron both come, it’s going to be a zoo on MacArthur Drive,” Mohon, Pinehurst’s mayor, predicted. “But that would be a good problem to have.”

Kunst has already been in discussions with Donald Smith, TxDOT’s Beaumont District engineer.

“We brought that [Chevron plant] up,” Kunst said. “’What if there’s an increased traffic count on MacArthur?’

“We were told that even with decreasing the lanes from six to four, it can still handle a higher traffic count.”

Dupre, the TxDOT spokesperson, said that unlike TxDOT’s public meetings in the past couple of years to ask for input on much costlier Interstate 10 construction projects, there “are no public meetings scheduled.”

Of course, public meetings are not permitted in this period of social distancing to slow the spread of the virus.

“We do want people to comment if they want to,” Dupre said. “We are always asking for feedback. And there’s no deadline for comment.”

Individuals wishing to comment on this project should call 409-898-5732 or email [email protected].

 

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