The U.S. Census Bureau recently determined that Hood County is the ninth fastest-growing county in the nation, which may be exciting for those who love more housing, shopping and dining choices.
It’s not so great, though, if you’re trying to drive somewhere or need emergency assistance.
Traffic, you may have noticed, is getting worse. And the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) seems to move slower than, well, traffic in Granbury.
Of course, Granbury isn’t the only city in the state that needs help from TxDOT. And neither is Cresson, where dirt is expected to finally move later this summer on a project dubbed the “Cresson Relief Route.” Utilities are currently being moved at that site.
Regardless of infrastructure needs in other areas of the state, Granbury’s and Hood County’s explosive growth are posing ever-greater challenges for those who live here.
Sheriff Roger Deeds said that he is staging deputies at various parts of the county so that help can arrive quickly to any emergency situation even if back-up assistance gets backed up in traffic.
“It’s just unbelievable,” he said of the jam-ups. “It seems like it always was (worse) around lunch time, but it’s getting to the point where from early in the morning to late at night it’s pretty tough out there.”
So much so that Deeds now often brings a sandwich to eat at his desk so that he doesn’t have to deal with mid-day traffic snarls.
Finding a way to alleviate the problem is “way up at the top of the council’s priority,” Mayor Nin Hulett said Monday. “When we did strategic planning, that was a top issue that everybody laid out on the table.”
Hulett said that he and City Manager Chris Coffman have met with TxDOT officials and have attended meetings of Tex-21, a grassroots organization that strives to improve transportation infrastructure throughout the state. Trish Reiner, one of the council’s newest members, also attended one of those meetings.
“We really have no control over 377,” Reiner said, adding that TxDOT officials “are not really making us a priority at this point.”
She said that, in her view, traffic is “a growing crisis.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tony Mobly said that he has seen flashing lights in his rear-view mirror while stuck in traffic on Hwy. 377 and been unable to move out of the way. He stated that he is “extremely concerned” about the growing problem.
“The fact that we have two helicopter ambulance services for Hood County ought to tell everybody what they need to know,” he said, referring to traffic challenges faced by ground ambulance crews when transporting patients to Fort Worth.
Granbury Police Chief Mitch Galvan said the growing traffic problem is “a huge concern,” especially since his officers work more than 1,000 traffic accidents per year.
“TxDOT has plans that will help tremendously, but there is no telling when, or if, it will ever come to fruition,” he said.
Mobly said he remembers when former County Judge Andy Rash gave a presentation to Rotary about TxDOT’s plan to widen the Highway 377 corridor through the busiest section of town.
That was 13 years ago.
“He was showing us a (design) saying, ‘In five years it will be done,’” Mobly recalled. And they haven’t moved one shovel of dirt yet.”
He said that the plan is so old it is no longer valid due to infrastructure changes and other issues. Hulett also stated that the original plan is now “off the table.”
TxDOT has scheduled a traffic and engineering study for the Highway 144/377 intersection where traffic backs up on 144
The mayor said that he especially would like to see the state agency make improvements at the intersection of Highway 144 and 377, where traffic frequently is backed up because of motorists trying to turn onto 377 to drive in the direction of Fort Worth.
An old, abandoned Texaco station was recently demolished there.
“That piece of property is good for nothing, but it could get us more turn lanes,” Hulett said.
TxDOT Public Information Officer Michael Peters said that “at the request of the city of Granbury,” the agency has scheduled a traffic and engineering study for that intersection.
“TxDOT has long-term plans for the widening of US 377 which would include intersection improvements at SH 144,” Peters wrote in an email to the HCN.
Hulett noted that plans are in the works to possibly build a multi-story, 55-and-older luxury apartment building behind where the Texaco used to be, on the cliff overlooking the Rockin’ S Bar and Grill on Lake Granbury.
If the project is brought to fruition, it would be the city’s second multi-story apartment building. The two- and three-story Brazos Crossing lake-front apartments behind Chili’s recently began leasing.
“Let’s face it, we’re the ninth fastest growing county” in the country, Hulett said. “We’re growing more rapidly than we expected, basically, so we’ve got to get out in front of our future planning.”
Reiner said that hundreds more homes have been green-lighted in Gran-bury.
She stated that a Planning and Zoning Commission member recently suggested doing a Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) around the Harbor Lakes area to present to TxDOT as an example of growth that is happening throughout the county. She said that 48,000 cars are driving “up and down 377” daily.
“You go to an argument with facts,” she said. “That would be a good thing to do, to go to them with that information.”
Hood County’s population was listed at 51,182 in the 2010 census. Deeds said that 9-1-1 addressing now has 30,189 “address points” throughout the county. Since many of those households include couples with children, “I figure we’re 75,000 to 80,000 in this county now,” the sheriff said.
“This county is growing fast and the infrastructure really isn’t there to support that kind of traffic flow, so now we’re behind the eight ball.”
Mobly said that now that the 86th Legislature has ended, city officials will likely talk to State Sen. Brian Birdwell and State Rep. Mike Lang, both Gran-bury residents, in hopes that the lawmakers will intercede with TxDOT.
Mobly noted that TxDOT representatives attend the twice-yearly inter-local government meetings held in Hood County and have stated an intention to hold Town Hall meetings on a design for widening 377.
“I was told that in October,” he said. “I have heard nothing since.”
Peters told the HCN that the 377 widening project is not currently funded for construction.
The Cresson Relief Route might be a clue as to how long the process could take.
Former Commissioner Steve Berry said that former Precinct 3 Commissioner Leonard Heathington was “having conversations” with TxDOT in 2007 when he was elected to the Precinct 4 seat. Meetings began in 2008.
Eleven years ago.
IN THE MEANTIME
Although city officials have no control over TxDOT or Highway 377, they are working on the city’s roads so that alternate routes can help alleviate congestion on 377.
Hulett hopes that locals will start using those routes more since visitors rely mostly on highways.
An extension of Harbor Lakes Drive recently opened between 377 and Crawford Court by the new Granbury Lakeside Center. Mobly said he noticed a significant increase in the number of motorists using Crawford Court after the Harbor Lakes extension opened.
Mobly advised citizens to contact their state-level representatives, Bird-well and Lang, to ask for help.
“At the city level,” he said, “we’ve done everything we can.”
firstname.lastname@example.org | 817-573-7066, ext. 258