Public officials, their representatives and a few concerned residents gathered at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center on March 2 for a Texas Department of Transportation public meeting about connecting U.S. Highway 190 and Interstate 10.
The meetings are part of the U.S. 190/I-10 Feasability Study conducted by the Texas Department of Transportation and Wilbur Smith Associates.
The huge undertaking would connect El Paso to the Louisiana border, connecting Fort Bliss, Fort Hood and Fort Polk, La., while crossing 900 miles and 25 counties. This was the fourth of eight meetings within the affected area to get the public's input on the plan.
TxDOT sees this connection as important because it would connect the military installations to deep water ports in Corpus Christi and Beaumont, while relieving congestion in quickly growing parts of Texas. TxDOT spokesman Ken Roberts said planning highway expansion is necessary because congestion is already bad in some areas, and will only get worse as Texas grows.
Roberts said U.S. 190 from the Stan Schlueter Loop exit to the main gate at Fort Hood has more traffic than Interstate 35. It averages around 120,000 cars per day, whereas I-35 is closer to 100,000.
He also added that this is just the first phase of the study, and not to expect construction tomorrow.
"We are looking 30 years down the line," he said.
The projects' two biggest barriers are lack of funding and the sheer size of it, Roberts said.
During the presentation, Butch Babineaux, vice president of Wilber Smith, strongly encouraged questions and participation. Large maps were spread across tables to write in road suggestions and circle problem areas.
"This is the evaluation process. Show us your areas of concern," Babineaux said. He added that while there is a lack of funding for this type of plan, sharing concerns can help prioritize trouble spots.
Because U.S. 190 and other roads in this study are part of the Texas Truck System - a designation of truck-heavy traffic areas - they are often given priority for funding.
Less ambitious alternatives also were proposed, such as widening all of U.S. 190 to four lanes, or just stretching it to meet Interstate 45, which would still provide direct access to Houston and East Texas.
Former Killeen City Councilwoman Kathy Gilmore was very involved in this issue during her service from 1998 to 2004. She said residents need to get educated on these studies and fight for what they want.
"Everyone needs to realize the importance of roadways. I'm disappointed there are not more people out," she said.
Former Harker Heights Mayor Mary Gauer agreed with Gilmore.
"Just think about how long it took to get Fort Hood paved," she said. "Maybe more people will submit their opinions online."
Jason Herring of Killeen, one of the few residents who turned out for the meeting, recalled similar plans from years ago to better connect Texas to Louisiana.
"I was curious of the development and growth," Herring said. "It's nice to see people think about this again. These two-lane roads can't hold the extra traffic."
Harker Heights Councilman Spencer Smith, Copperas Cove Mayor Pro Tem Frank Sheffield and Killeen City Manager Connie Green were among the local officials at the meeting.
Representatives for Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, also attended.
The study is expected to be submitted to TxDOT at the end of 2012. The plans can be reviewed online at www.txdot.gov.
Those who would still like to offer opinions can submit written comments by mail to U.S. 190/I-10 Feasibility Study, 412 North Street, Nacogdoches, TX 75961, by e-mail to TPP_US_190_Study@txdot.gov, online at www.txdot.gov or by calling (866) 721-7868.