MPO study highlights trail route options

The Permian Basin Metropolitan Planning Organization has identified trail routes that could be established between Midland and Odessa to improve bicyclist and pedestrian safety.
MPO concluded the first phase of a multi-use corridor study last month and shared findings with the Permian Basin Bicyclist Association on Monday during a regularly scheduled meeting.
Lorrine Quimiro, senior transportation planner for MPO, said the organization helps guide and coordinate how transportation dollars are spent, which includes expanding resources and safe routes for those using alternative modes of transportation.
MPO funding comes from the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration through the Texas Department of Transportation. The study was conducted using additional TxDOT funding along with MPO funds, but the execution of any items suggested would fall on outside sources.
Five out of nine trail route alternatives studied were listed as preferred paths to pursue with construction project cost estimates ranging between $22.4 million and $70.6 million, not including engineering costs.
The University of Texas Permian Basin was identified as a possible trailhead for several routes leading toward midpoints like the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center, Midland International Air and Space Port and the UTPB CEED Building at 1310 N. Farm to Market Road 1788. In Midland, routes would lead path users toward the eastern trailhead near the Scharbauer Sports Complex.
“ The service roads on Business Interstate 20 were also looked at, but those were not very good options because there are a lot of access points and a lot of stopping and opportunities for conflict,” she said.
Trails for both bicyclists and pedestrians ranked among the community’s top recreational needs based on stakeholder interviews, public meetings and online survey responses, the 2014 Odessa Parks and Recreation master plan stated.
“ We absolutely need this path,” PBBA President Jasha Cultreri said. “People are getting killed on the roads out here, people are getting hurt and people are getting run off the roads.”
Cultreri has been a local cyclist for about 15 years and said vigilance is not enough to protect vulnerable road users.
“ I was always aware you’ve got to watch out for cars because they may not see you, but when you head out the door and think today I might get killed it’s a different thought than just I really have to be careful,” he said.
A 39-year-old Midland doctor was killed last June after being hit from behind while riding her bicycle on the Highway 191 service road and two others were killed in April 2018 after being hit by a truck while riding on Highway 158, the Odessa American previously reported.
“ When the doctor got killed out on 191, I said it’s not going to affect me, but it does,” Cultreri said. “I used ride out there all the time, now I don’t.”
Several PBBA members voiced their concern during the meeting that the roads have become more dangerous and recalled feeling unsafe when seeing drivers on their phones as well as a history of those in vehicles showing aggression toward cyclists.
PBBA has about 500 members and Quimiro said the Midland-Odessa population is on the rise but there are not safe routes to cater to this growing group.
“ We wanted to minimize exposure to traffic so a lot of these are off-street with 16-feet wide paths to accommodate both cyclist and pedestrians,” she said. “A big part of the next phase will be to focus in on which one of those alternatives is best and fleshing out all of the problems that could arise.”
When Sally Owen, a program officer for PBBA, asked if there was any money for the alternative routes, Quimiro said, “to build anything right now, no.”
Quimiro said conducting a study on viable options was the first step in this process.
Phase two of the study would focus on establishing an organization that could take the lead on planning efforts, funding and ongoing maintenance.
“ As MPO is pushing this forward, we would show everybody that the alternatives are available, and in this next phase show which might be the best one to go with,” she said. “That’s where our role as the MPO would end because we’re in the planning department.”
She described the transportation system in the area as “uneven,” by not accommodating to those wanting to use alternate modes of transportation.
“ It doesn’t help that the highway part of the system is also very behind in the game,” Quimiro said. “We have a big challenge and we’re trying to push all these things forward.”
Being that the route goes across many entities, such as the City of Midland, Ector County and Midland County, Quimiro said it might make more sense for one group to step forward, like a nonprofit that is an arm of one of these entities.