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TxDOT getting ready to buy land for Hwy 24 expansion

Delta County landowners are starting to get a good look at just how much property a wider Texas 24 will take.

“We’re wanting to be more forward and get more questions answered and get more feedback,” Tray Turner, public information officer for TxDOT’s Paris District, said Thursday during an open house for property owners in Cooper. “We’re trying to be more proactive, meeting with everyone a little ahead of schedule.”

Texas Department of Transportation invited 60 property owners representing about 70 tracts of land impacted by the expansion of Highway 24. The state plans to purchase about 150 acres to widen the 10.4-mile length of Highway 24 that is still two lanes out to four. Most of the land to be purchased is on the west side. There are about nine businesses, 18 homes and 20 barns and sheds in that swath of land.

TxDOT hopes to start the appraisal process this month with offers going out in mid-February. Contracts for construction should let in August 2013. Depending on the weather, it should be about two years after that before drivers start using all four lane.

“It’s beneficial for the landowners to meet the team who will be sending the information,” said Sheila Mills, North Right of Way Project Delivery manager.

The right of way is divided into three sections: Cooper to Klondike, Klondike to Jernigan Creek, and the creek toward Hunt County. Once construction begins, the highway will be done as one big project. Dividing the land into pieces allows construction to begin on one end even if a few parcels are still needed down the line.

TxDOT will fund most of the $38.6 million project to widen Highway 24 to four lanes in Delta County. Sulphur River Regional Mobility Authority has taken a loan from TxDOT’s State Infrastructure Bank to pay for the remaining $4.5 million. The funds will be used to purchase the land needed for highway right of way.

SuRRMA relies on funding from other regional bodies to pay for the loan – Delta County, Cooper, Paris, Lamar County and Paris Economic Development Corp.

The project has an approved schematic that mostly calls for a divided highway with a 76-foot median in the middle. Two areas that run over creeks feeding Cooper Lake fall under federal wildlife management and the roadway has to be compressed to four lanes divided by concrete barriers over about a half-mile.

“Safety is No. 1,” Turner said, noting that passing lanes help but aren’t as safe as a full four-lane highway. “With four lanes compared to two lanes, safety is going to be greater.”

Economic development is also an important factor for Lamar County. Shipping costs more anytime trucks have to leave a four-lane highway, and the Paris Economic Development Corp. has been barred from bidding on industrial projects because companies did not want to move to an area without four-lane access to the interstate system.

“Construction money spent in an area improves the economy of that area,” Turner said.

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