Highway, ferry system on new district engineer’s radar
A proposed multi-million-dollar expansion of State Hwy. 361 in Port Aransas still isn’t completely funded, but this town has a chance to get the funding it needs during this Legislative session, according to a transportation official.
“It has a very viable potential to go forward,” said John A. Casey, the new district engineer in charge of the Corpus Christi office of the Texas Department of Transportation.
Casey also talked about plans to increase stacking lane capacity at the ferry landings. He made the remarks while speaking on Tuesday, Jan. 25, at the Community Center, where he provided updates on various transportation issues affecting Port Aransas.
More than a dozen people, including city council members, attended the event, which was organized by the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce as a get-acquainted gathering for chamber members.
Casey became the district engineer in July last year. He previously lived in Utah and served as vice president of T.Y. Lin International, a civil and structural engineering firm.
Casey said he’s the first person from outside Texas ever to take this district engineer’s position. And, he said, he’s only the second non-TxDOT employee ever to be hired as a district engineer.
Casey said he’s dedicated to helping Port Aransas and surrounding areas as much as he can with citizens’ transportation needs.
“My goal is to work with you to try and help make this community (remain) as vibrant as I think it is, and to make the ripple effect of economic development as effective as we can,” he said.
TxDOT’s plans for the State Hwy. 361 project address an area between Avenue G and Beach Access Road 1.
That stretch of highway, slightly more than two and a half miles, is two lanes wide and has shoulders. Plans call for a $7.7 million project that would expand the highway to four lanes and result in the construction of a raised median and a 10-foot-wide hike-and-bike trail on the east side of the thoroughfare.
Competition for transportation project funding around the state is stiff, and Casey wasn’t making any promises for funding, partly because he doesn’t control that.
But, he said, several factors do weigh in Port Aransas’s favor. For example, state authorities want to see a “regional draw” in traffic where road funds go, and that happens in that portion of Hwy. 361, Casey said.
Other components that help Port Aransas’s chances: The highway is part of a hurricane evacuation route, and the city seems ready to contribute a share of the cost of the project, Casey said.
State authorities also like projects that are “shovel-ready,” and the Hwy. 361 project will be just that by about October, when TxDOT will be finished with engineering and other preliminary work associated with the planned venture, Casey said.
TxDOT also is planning to expand the length of traffic “stacking” lanes at the ferry landings on both sides of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel, Casey said.
The newly drawn lanes would allow ferry traffic directors to put two or three times as many vehicles in the stacking lanes as can fit there now, he said.
On the Mustang Island side, the lanes would extend over what now is an open, grassy area south of where the lanes are right now. Some of the property belongs to the state, and some belongs to the city.
Traffic signals also would be put in place to help drivers know when to pull up, Casey said.
On the Harbor Island side, Casey said, the additional stacking lanes will be inserted where state-owned grassy areas are now.
Construction of the stacking lanes would be funded by state or federal grants, Casey said. If the funding comes through, the work could be done roughly between October this year and February 2012, he said.