Public gets update on proposed reliever route

More than 200 people — some in support of, some against and some just curious — filled the main meeting room at Dora Roberts Community Center for a public hearing on a decade-old project Thursday: a truck reliever round around Big Spring.What they learned is that the 12.75-mile, $150 million bypass probably will be built around the west side of Big Spring someday, but it is anyone’s guess as to how long it will take and where exactly the funding will come from.“As you know, transportation funding has really been impacted nationwide,” Blair W. Haynie, P.E., C.F.M. Director of Transportation, Planning and Development for the Abilene District of the Texas Department of Transportation, told the crowd. “Right now, there are very few funds out there.”What is available is some $15 million, which TxDOT officials have set aside to obtain right of way — property — for the proposed four-lane divided highway. With an expected lack of immediate funding, officials are proposing a multi-phase project. What they want to do is start along RM 33 — known locally as the Garden City Highway — and proceed west and north around McMahon-Wrinkle Airpark, then east to meet up with FM 700 at U.S. Highway 87.Those interested in the project for some time will recognize this as part of the Texas Trunk System or Port-to-Plains Highway, originally developed as a Mexico-to-Wyoming corridor that has since expanded in scope north to Canada. The vision is a north-south almost non-stop border-to-border traffic “lifeline” to get supplies from one part of the country to another — or indeed, from one country to another — as diligently as possible.Seen from a more local aspect, supporters say the reliever route will redirect heavy truck traffic from Gregg Street, thus providing a safer environment in the city. Those opposing the project are concerned that the route will also shift passenger traffic around Big Spring, thereby hurting local businesses. A handful of people spoke at the end of Thursday’s meeting, espousing both views.The hearing, however, concentrated on the project itself. Officials said the plan is to start from the south and, if need be at the time, construct only a farm-to-market type road around much of the route – as is the case currently from FM 700 west to Interstate 20. When funds become more available, the highway could be expanded to a divided four-lane course.Of special interest during the meeting was the acquisition of property for the reliever route. Tommy James, right-of-way specialist for TxDOT, told those gathered that the process is a lengthy one. It begins with making sure titles are free and clear, then goes to a valuation period, where “fair market value” is used in determining what a piece of property is worth. Landowners are then made an offer. Upon agreement, the parties close on the property.If an agreement cannot be made, eminent domain proceedings begin. Special commissioners — a group of Howard County landowners who have no interest in the property — set an award amount. The property owner can appeal, however, and eventually each case could end up in a jury trial.