• November 12, 2019

TEXAS VIEW: Gregg County highway funds haul means a brighter future - Odessa American: Texas Opinion

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TEXAS VIEW: Gregg County highway funds haul means a brighter future

THE POINT: The fact Gregg County has gotten this many projects this far is a big accomplishment.

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Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2019 2:30 am

It isn’t obvious to us exactly how highway projects make it from conception on paper to concrete reality. We know there is no set process that guarantees approval for funding, regardless of need. It has something to do with political power but is more than that, too.

Whatever the secrets, it appears Gregg County has found the correct formula as 11 significant projects either partly or wholly within the county have been added to the state’s list of goals for the next 10 years. Harrison County to our east will also see major improvements.

This is huge news. It means long-needed projects can move forward from the concept stage to actual planning and, eventually, the letting of bids and construction. It means state transportation officials have decided these projects should be completed. It means there will be no more discussion about the worthiness of the proposals.

Getting to this point is a major achievement, one worthy of celebration.

The projects total almost $300 million and every one of them is tied to solving problems that have been the cause of fatal accidents, are near school campuses or along designated truck routes. All of them are designed to make our highways and streets safer and more efficient. All will make Gregg County a more inviting place to live and do business.

Most of them also are long overdue.

The list includes $150 million to rework the left-exit interchange between I-20 and U.S. 259, which has long been a dangerous and difficult place to navigate. Also included is a plan to widen Texas 42 from two lanes to four between I-20 and U.S. 80. This is another hazardous area that has long needed to be made safer.

In fact, safety seems to be at the heart of the work, with road-widening the primary focus of six of the projects. Moving people and goods is, of course, the point of road building but the primary concern is doing so as safely as possible.

That seems to be what engineers used as their first objective in devising all the projects.

Still, there is work to be done before we fully celebrate these successes. Appropriations from the state Legislature must be allocated, and that is where problems can occur.

The Texas Department of Transportation and Texas Transportation Commission that gave this list final approval have their priorities, but individual politicians can bring pressure to bear. That could lead a project here being swapped for another one there. Or the overall budget can be cut, forcing TxDOT to remove some projects in favor of others.

Until the votes are taken and spending bill is approved, nothing is a certainty.

The fact Gregg County has gotten this many projects this far is an accomplishment, though, and a big one. Many people have worked diligently, and for many years, to get us to this point.

But the work is not finished. Now, these projects must be guided through the process with care. Local officials who have worked to get us here must watch to keep progress on track. Road building is often not the sexiest item on the agenda but in these cases it should be.

The officials who have gotten us this far are to be congratulated. The work ahead will improve our area’s quality of life and lead to growth.

This is huge news. But we must remember there is still work ahead — and that includes making sure we get to completion of these needed projects.

Odessa, TX

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