• July 21, 2019

City reviews transportation plan - Odessa American: News

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City reviews transportation plan

Big changes proposed for Grant

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Posted: Sunday, July 14, 2019 7:00 am

The City Council received a presentation of a draft of their transportation master plan this week, which suggested some major changes to Grant Avenue and downtown.

The plan, drafted by consulting firm Kimley-Horn, was presented by Kimley-Horn Vice President Jeff Whitacre. While the plan looks at prioritizing projects across the city, most of the time and recommendations centered on Grant Avenue.

“It’s your entryway into the city,” Whitacre said. “The ultimate vision was to enhance safety and walkability, that’s really what we’re looking at.”

In regard to improving walkability, the plan presents several different options for remodeling Grant Avenue to allow for more space for pedestrians. One option, removing a lane to make more space for sidewalks, is right on the borderline of being feasible, Whitacre said, as the roadway carries about 18,000 vehicles a day, or 750 vehicles an hour.

“Basically, if you do it, it’s going to be busy, and there’s going to be a little bit slower traffic moving through there,” Whitacre said. “But sometimes in downtown, that’s what you want.”

There were other options presented as well, such as removing the median on the roadway and making it a four-lane undivided road, which would allow for more sidewalk space. They could also add angled parking to the road, which Whitacre said some people prefer over parallel parking, but that would require the city to take ownership of the roadway, which is currently owned by the Texas Department of Transportation.

Whatever they choose to go with, if anything at all, Whitacre said they should get public opinion on it first from residents and business owners downtown to let them know the reasons they are wanting to do it, and that the final plan would be determined through public input.

“We’re doing it for these reasons not because of traffic, traffic will get a little worse,” Whitacre said. “All of these options have pros, but all of the options have cons.”

Another recommendation made by the plan was possibly installing a roundabout at the intersection of Andrews Highway, Kermit Highway and Grant Avenue, where Whitacre said many people complained about the traffic signal there. A roundabout would also mean getting permission from the Texas Department of Transportation.

“So we just kind of got an idea, what if we made this into an intersection that circulates traffic around?” Whitacre said.

Public Works Director Tom Kerr said the thought of trying to alleviate intersection issues seems to tend towards a roundabout now, and said they’re being made larger, more elliptical, so they aren’t as stressful.

Whitacre said if a roundabout was implemented, they could also have a parallel route to Grant Avenue to expand downtown, as another entryway to the planned Marriott Hotel and Convention Center for people who want to travel to downtown. The idea at this time would be promoting Texas Avenue as that entryway, he said.

District 5 Council Member Mari Willis said she didn’t have any preference for possible changes to Grant Avenue yet, calling the plans preliminary right now.

“We will keep in mind the traffic flow and all that,’ Willis said. “We just want to make sure traffic is flowing throughout the city.”

District 4 Council Member Tom Sprawls said he’s struggled with the idea of making some of the changes to Grant Avenue.

“You can’t cut traffic down,” Sprawls said. “Today, I don’t see any viable plans that I would endorse.”

As far as the roundabout, Sprawls said he thinks it would work to alleviate congestion at that intersection, but didn’t see it as a high priority at this time.

District 3 Council Member Detra White similarly said she had mixed feelings about changes to Grant Avenue because she is interested in keeping it as a good thoroughfare between north and south.

“I’ve talked to people about the downtown project and what their interests are, and the No. 1 thing they want is to keep that as a primary thoroughfare, they do not want it narrowed,” White said.

White also said she would be concerned about how the roundabout would affect access to Grant Avenue. She said she was open to the suggestion but wouldn’t be ready to vote in favor of it at this point.

Some other suggestions included possibly creating more angled parking spaces on streets like Jackson Avenue and Fourth Street to provide more parking spaces, as well as improved lighting near the convention center and the planned Torchy’s Tacos, near Fourth Street and Hancock Avenue.

“They don’t want to leave Torchy’s and not be able to see where they’re going; they don’t feel safe,” Whitacre said. “If you can get lighting, people are willing to walk a lot more.”

The plan also suggests increasing the funding for pavement repairs and maintenance. Whitacre said the city’s overall pavement condition is fair but quickly approaching poor, and suggested raising the funding for minor maintenance from $2.4 million a year to $5.6 million a year. Kerr said Midland has roads in worse shape than Odessa, and they raised their maintenance fund to $9 million a year.

A project to widen Faudree Road north of Highway 191 is also in the plan, listed as the top priority, and is currently slotted to be paid for through the certificate of obligation the city is pursuing, and may take on Sept. 13. The project is estimated to cost about $19.2 million in total.

Proposed changes to Grant Avenue don’t have an estimate yet, but Whitacre said some funding methods to pay for them could include using Odessa Development Corporation funds, or enacting fees such as impact fees or street maintenance fees. An impact fee is a one-time charge assessed to new developments and redevelopments, while street maintenance fees would be an extra fee tacked onto each resident’s monthly water bill, usually about $1.

Moving forward, Whitacre said they will complete a bike component of the plan and address any council comments before formally adopting the plan and moving forward with public hearings about plans for Grant Avenue.

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