Finally, on Dec. 16, the state earmarked $253,000 to install a four-way stoplight and replace three right-turn ramps with turn lanes that require drivers to stop. After engineering and design work is finished, construction should start in early 2006, said Michael Peters, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation.
The department has been paying attention to the requests for improvements, but many other sites also needed work, and the Somervell intersection didn't qualify under the state's system of prioritization, Peters said.
That changed when $600 million in bond money became available in December and safety improvements across the state were approved, Peters said.
Chiefly, the problem at the intersection seems to be that drivers come off Texas 144 and County Road 333 without yielding to cars on U.S. 67, said Sgt. Birt Wilkerson of the Texas Department of Public Safety. A flashing red light for traffic on Texas 144 and County Road 333 was added, as were oversize warning signs and signs alerting drivers that U.S. 67 traffic doesn't stop, he said.
"We have never been opposed to the stoplight. It's been a matter of funding," McEndree said.
Somervell County Judge Walter Maynard had pressed the department for years for what he believed would be one improvement: lowering the speed limit from 60 mph. But he said he was frustrated by the red tape.
"For the six years since I was elected, I've been pleading for them to drop the speed limit to 45," Maynard said. "It was only last year that they dropped it to 55."
Villarreal, of Saginaw, also believes the speed limit is part of the problem. She was stopped at the intersection when the driver of a car heading east on U.S. 67 stopped, apparently because of a yellow caution light. She said she then pulled out, not realizing that a school bus was coming down the hill farther to the right.
"That speed limit needs to come down some," she said.
The Transportation Department had been hesitant to lower the limit because its engineers set it using a formula based on the speed at which 85 percent of cars are going, Peters said. Engineers believe that setting limits lower than that can lead drivers to disregard them as unreasonable, he said. But the department lowered the limit to 55 in response to concerns about the intersection.
Maynard thinks the formula is archaic. He also said that although it looks as if the intersection improvements will go ahead, he's not letting up pressure to get the work done
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