TxDOT floats idea of SH 185 bypass

Amber Aldaco By Amber Aldaco

May 9, 2017 at 9:15 p.m.
Updated May 9, 2017 at 10:05 p.m.

Meagan Moreno reaches to touch a memorial tribute for Kevin Garza, 11, who died after being hit Tuesday by a hit-and-run driver.

Meagan Moreno reaches to touch a memorial tribute for Kevin Garza, 11, who died after being hit Tuesday by a hit-and-run driver.   Ana Ramirez for The Victoria Advocate

Texas Department of Transportation officials are thinking about rerouting thousands of vehicles that travel on SH 185 every day around Bloomington.

At the Victoria Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting Tuesday, Jeff Vinklarek, of TxDOT, presented committee members with a preliminary option for an 8-mile highway bypass around the unincorporated community.

Vinklarek also presented three shorter, but more curvy routes.

"There's currently about 7,000 vehicles per day that travel (SH) 185 through here," Vinklarek said.

By comparison, U.S. 59 sees about 30,000 cars a day, and U.S. 77 north of Victoria has traffic of about 7,000 vehicles a day also. About 4,500 to 7,500 cars travel through Red River Street.

The potential bypass would consist of a two-lane divided highway on the east side of Bloomington that crosses over the railroad tracks.

The bypass would provide access to FM 616 and would reconnect with SH 185 about 4 miles south of Bloomington, Vinklarek said.

"This project improves emergency access response time in the area by providing the overpass across the railroad. This project also has strong safety implications by routing traffic around the community," he said.

That project would cost about $42 million for construction.

Vinklarek emphasized that the bypass idea was not yet a set plan.

"We're only looking at possibilities and options," Vinklarek said.

TxDOT Victoria area engineer Mike Walsh said he has been told that the railroad can be a challenge for emergency services.

"If they're trying to send an ambulance up from Seadrift, they don't know which way to go because if they encounter a train, they have to detour and go around," Walsh said.

Policy advisory committee chairman and City Councilman Tom Halepaska said a shorter route of the project could also lessen the cost.

The preliminary bypass could become a committed project if traffic on SH 185 increases or if the Metropolitan Planning Organization makes it a priority.

Safety along SH 185 has been on the minds of Bloomington residents for many years, but the death of Kevin Garza in September refueled discussions about ways to improve safety on the highway.

The 11-year-old was killed by an unidentified motorist near the intersection of SH 185 and Fifth Street. After Kevin's death, parents and community members stood along SH 185 with signs reading "Slow down for Kevin." One of those concerned community members was Michael Downs.

Downs, a former Bloomington resident now living in Victoria, said he did not know about the meeting but thinks a potential SH 185 bypass would be both good and bad for the town. He said he would also just like to see money invested in safety measures around Bloomington such as more street lights, lowered speed limits and community education about traffic safety.

"It's a double-edged sword - a bypass. It would make the road safer, but it would take the economy down," the 49-year-old said. "I would rather see money spent on preventative measures for the community."



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