COPPERAS COVE — Heavy traffic along Business U.S. Highway 190 won’t stop Black Meg 43 Manager Michael Speer from eating at the burger joint.
At Black Meg’s, he can get a burger in all kinds of sizes and varieties. He can enjoy bright, natural light and country music in a familiar space. Big corporate names like McDonald’s and Burger King — and even Whataburger — make him scoff.
Speer has worked for Black Meg’s the past five years. He’s loyal to his brand.
Hungry, hasty motorists scouting for easy, quick options on their lunch break might not share the strength of Speer’s loyalty — at least not enough to make the U-turns a proposed new median would require.
If a renovation to Business 190 sees the light of day, Speer fears easy access to Black Meg’s at 1501 Ronald Reagan Highway could be compromised.
Speer’s boss shares the concern.
“For me, looking at the plans, it looks like all customers westbound are pretty much cut off from turning into Black Meg. They’ll have to go up and find a turnaround spot,” said John Vasseur, Black Meg’s co-owner. “The island in the middle will allow people to only turn around in certain spots ... that median is going to make it impossible for them to get to where they want to go.”
The proposed project, the first phase of which spans about 1.25 miles from Constitution Drive to Avenue D, would change the current configuration of three lanes in both directions with a center turn lane to two lanes in each direction with a median and intermittent turn lanes, sidewalks and bike lanes. If preliminary dates hold, construction could start in spring 2020 and be completed by summer 2021.
Road to controversy
Interstate 14 traffic morphs into Business 190 once motorists pass the city boundary. Most of the businesses in Cove, which include anything from gas stations to grocery stores, line sides of the asphalt slab barreling west.
Cove’s Business 190 Master Plan was started in 2013 to beautify and improve the safety of the highway. Over the years, traffic studies were performed and council support was declared.
The city was awarded $10 million from he Killeen-Temple Metropolitan Planning Organization (KTMPO) in 2017, which includes a 20 percent match ($2 million) from the Texas Department of Transportation. The project also includes a $420,000 landscaping feature funded by the Governor’s Community Achievement Award.
Residents have attended several council meetings in Cove, voicing opinions about the project, even when 190 wasn’t on the agenda. A town hall in May at the Copperas Cove Civic Center, coordinated by the Texas Department of Transportation in tandem with the city and KTMPO, attracted hundreds with varying opinions about the project that would change the main highway in the city.
Speer’s opinion on the project is as plain as a meat-and-cheese-only hamburger.
“That’s just stupid,” Speer said in an interview last week, holding a copy of Phase 1 plans. “They expanded this to undo the congestion and the clogs, and now they want to re-congest and reclog it … (the project is) going to hamper a lot of small businesses here.”
Business over the years has already taken a dip, Vasseur said. He and Speer attribute that to the bypass that opened in 2015, which allows drivers to drive past Cove and drive toward Lampasas. An influx of chain restaurants near the city limits in the Five Hills Shopping Center, according to Vasseur, has also gnawed at local shops.
Vasseur is “conservatively” bracing for a profit drop of about 20 percent to 30 percent if the project goes through.
Vasseur attended the May town hall. He believes building a raised median to replace the current turn lane will be the root of road rage.
While Vasseur will acknowledge he isn’t an expert on traffic, he thinks Business 190 isn’t in need of any renovation. For him to support the project, it would take total removal of the median and more opportunities to turn into the other side of the highway.
Business patrons can find Salina Sinclair, an employee at Honey Food Mart, a little farther down the highway at 101 Wolf Road off westbound Business 190. She commutes from Killeen to Cove and drives down the highway every commute.
A median instead of the center turn lane seems like a nice beautification effort and wouldn’t have much of an affect on Sinclair, she said.
With the removal of one of the three westbound lanes, however, Sinclair fears her 30-minute commute might become longer by as much as 10 minutes. She said it could make the likelihood of arriving late to work more of a risk.
In the morning, Sinclair said, soldiers entering Fort Hood and those passing through Cove on the way to Gatesville make for no shortage of company on Business 190.
“For me, as a commuter coming from Killeen to Cove, to have one lane taken away from each side would make it more difficult for me, taking me more time,” she said. “The median sounds like a great idea, but the roads can get pretty cramped with cars. Taking away lanes would make it worse.”
Those concerns have been heard by city council members, who have expressed intention to backpedal from a project in which thousands of taxpayer dollars have already been funneled.
To date, city spokesman Kevin Keller said, $518,975 has already been spent toward design and planning. If four council members vote to cease forward movement on the project, it would stop.
That money could go toward another capital improvement project, according to Keller.
In the July 3 council meeting, Councilman James Pierce Jr. requested disengagement from Phase 1 of the project.
Councilman Charlie Youngs also called for “total disinvolvement” in planning and funding Phase 2 of the Business 190 Improvement Project, which spans from Avenue D to South Farm-to-Market 116. His complaint stemmed from the fact that Phase 2 currently has no estimated cost, design or start plan.
Interim City Manager Ryan Haverlah, who has advocated for the project in several council meetings, is trying to meet in the middle.
In the July 17 council meeting, Haverlah revealed collaborative efforts with TxDOT engineers to try and tweak the renovation plan.
Haverlah said retaining three lanes in each direction is possible, but only by compromising the sidewalk, according to TxDOT. The 10-foot sidewalk would be reduced to 6 feet, and would allow only pedestrians, not cyclists. Bike lanes with signage and painted lines on the road would be included in this revision.
The project timeline would remain relatively the same, even with proposed changes.
The next city council meeting, 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Technology Center, 508 S. Second St., will include items pertaining to 190 and potential changes for council to consider. A date for a vote on whether to continue or drop the project could also be decided.