US 69 finally looks to widen near Hardin, Tyler Counties
Daily traffic congestion on U.S. 69 in Hardin and Tyler counties caused by two-lane bottlenecks could be eased within the next decade by a multi-phase project to widen the whole corridor to four lanes.
Construction of the first segment, from FM 420 near the Big Thicket National Preserve in Hardin County to just south of Warren in Tyler County, is expected to begin in 2021, according to Sarah Dupre, with the Texas Department of Transportation.
TxDOT is seeking public feedback from people who live and work along U.S. 69 as it determines the specific alignment of the highway and looks at possible improvements to the rest of the 60-mile stretch from the U.S. 69-U.S. 96 split just south of Lumberton to the Angelina County border.
Cost of the first, “green segment” is unknown. Potential expansion of the rest of the route is still being studied.
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“Anything would help this traffic,” said Tom Short, owner of Hwy 69 Barber Shop in Lumberton, referring to “terrible” stop-and-go traffic that often makes it difficult to cross the road in the evenings.
An estimated 20,000 vehicles travel the Tyler-Hardin stretch of U.S. 69 daily.
TxDOT says widening U.S. 69 “would help relieve congestion, provide safer travel, improve emergency evacuation and support economic development.”
The U.S. 69 Corridor expansion project has been in the works since 2003 but lacked funding to move forward.
U.S. 69 is a primary evacuation route for events like Hurricane Rita in 2005, Ike in 2008 and most recently Tropical Storm Harvey. Dupre said that though that isn’t the only factor at work, highway improvements would contribute to more efficient evacuations.
“The people who live, work and travel here - we want to take them into consideration,” Dupre said.
Joey Foxworthy, manager of Holmes Supply Co. located on U.S. 69 in Kountze, said he thinks expansion of the highway is “about time.”
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According to Foxworthy, some of the abrupt transitions from four to two lanes along U.S. 69 back up traffic, creating a “bottleneck effect” that restricts traffic flow in certain areas.
A highway expansion would alleviate some of the congestion, Foxworthy said, particularly during the southbound 8 a.m. rush and northbound 5 p.m. gridlock.
Because U.S. 69 runs right in front of Holmes Supply, construction could cut into the business’s lot, but “even if it did, it’d be worth it,” he said.
TxDOT is required to conduct an environmental impact report, Dupre said.
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Jason Ginder, Big Thicket National Preserve public information officer, said he looks forward to working with TxDOT.
“Any project creating additional access to the park would be a positive contribution,” Ginder said, but at this stage, “it is not certain how it will affect the park.”
U.S. 69 runs next to the Big Thicket between Kountze and Village Mills and connects major cities and rural towns over approximately 345 miles from Port Arthur to Denison.