Texas 21 proposal

A driver checks traffic on Texas 21 while waiting at Trinity Avenue in North Zulch. A proposed TxDOT project would widen a stretch of Texas 21 to four lanes by 2026.

The Texas Department of Transportation is having a public hearing Thursday concerning its proposed project that would widen a 17.8-mile portion of Texas 21 near Madisonville and construct a new 3.2-mile relief route south of North Zulch. 

The estimated $122 million endeavor would create a four-lane divided highway from 2 miles west of FM 2865 to Martin Luther King Jr. Street in Madisonville; it also would displace five occupied residences and 14 other structures. It would require about 384 acres of additional right-of-way.  

The public hearing will be in the North Zulch High School cafeteria at 6 p.m. Thursday. An open house with project displays will begin at 4:30 p.m. Projects maps, an environmental assessment and other information are available online. 

If approved, construction would begin in the fall of 2022 and would take three to four years to complete, according to Doug Marino, TxDOT director of transportation, planning and development. 

“There are two purposes for this project,” Marino said Monday afternoon. “The first is to improve the safety along that stretch of roadway, and the second is to increase the capacity and enhance the mobility in that area.” 

Marino said that TxDOT staff looked at crash data from 2012 through 2017 for the stretch of Texas 21 that would be widened and found that 218 crashes took place, resulting in 16 fatalities and 27 serious injuries. 

“With this type of project, which is essentially going to a four-lane divided roadway, the historical trend data from across the state that we see when we do this type of project is a 45% crash reduction,” Marino said. 

Marino said the project is one that TxDOT has been interested in for several years, going back to the late 1990s. He credited the passage of Propositions 1 and 7 in 2014 and 2015, respectively, for creating the fiscal conditions that allow the funding of the proposed project. 

Marino said that he and other TxDOT officials have been in communication with area residents for some time, with open house meetings taking place in 2015. He said that people mostly favored a southern relief route over a proposed northern route at a May 2015 meeting. Marino said that some of residents who would be displaced or otherwise impacted have expressed concerns. 

“Once folks saw the more detailed drawings and we met with those landowners that would be impacted by the southern relief route, in general, those folks were not for that alignment,” Marino said. “Obviously, they’re getting impacted by that project more directly because it’s going through their property.” 

Relocation assistance and benefits are available for displaced persons and businesses, according to a TxDOT release. 

Existing Texas 21 through North Zulch would not be widened. The proposed roadway would consist of two 12-foot-wide travel lanes in each direction with a typical 68-foot-wide grass median.  

Proposed shoulders would consist of a 4-foot-wide inside shoulder and a 10-foot-wide outside shoulder. Two grade-separated overpasses are proposed at FM 39/Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway and at County Road 419 (Zulch Road). 

The proposed right-of-way width would increase by 144 feet for a typical total width of 244 feet. Proposed new shoulders would accommodate bicycle and pedestrian activity. 

Marino said that traffic impacts would be minimal “for the majority of the time” during construction. 

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