Bicyclists use of Toll 49 restricted, but not denied - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Bicyclists use of Toll 49 restricted, but not denied

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TYLER, TX (KLTV) -

On Tuesday, North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority board members voted 7-2 to allow bicyclists to use Toll 49 from State Highway 110 South to Highway 155 South. Bicyclists will be prohibited from riding on any other section of the toll road, effective immediately.

NET RMA is also asking the bicycling community to provide up to $60,000 in funding that is needed to implement striping and signage to make the toll road bike-friendly. NET RMA established their July board meeting as the deadline for that funding.

Advocates for allowing bicycles to keep using Toll 49 presented packets and a power point presentation to the NET RMA board asking them not to ban bicycles from Toll 49.

They also read a series of letters from influential people within the community who support bicycles on Toll 49. Some writers included the president of Mother Frances Hospital, the Tyler Junior College President and retired legislator Leo Berman.

Advocates for bicycles on Toll 49 said allowing cycling on Toll 49 enhances quality of life, connectivity, health and safety for bicyclists, compared to biking in the city or on county roads.

"Although you do have to be aware of your surroundings, it's a little less hectic than most roads here in Tyler," said Belen Casillas, an avid cyclist.

Belen said Toll 49's wide shoulders and direct travel route make it a dream for mature cyclists.

"They know how to signal, they know the right turns, they know how to look to the left or the right," she said.

"The key thing here is that all of this is in its infancy stage. Cycling and working with the NET RMA... this is good stuff," said cyclist and business owner Tyler Simpson, after making a presentation to the  board.

Simpson said he did consider the decision a win for cyclists, but would rather not see their travel restricted.

"I  hate to see cyclists banned from anywhere. I think we as individuals should be able to choose where we ride," he said.

At Tuesday's board meeting in Canton, NET RMA interim director Everett Owen explained the board's main concern is safety, as the toll road's transactions are expected to increase.

"I know, personally, and I think for the whole board, that's our number one concern-- a good safe road for everyone. It scares the motorists if that bicycle swerves their way," said board member Barham Fulmer, who represents Smith County.

"We'll give this a try. We certainly hope it's successful and its safe," Fulmer said of the board's decision. "People need to need to know they need to raise the money to stripe this area or this compromise really goes away," he added.

Tyler Simpson said he thought the cycling community would be able to raise the $60,000.

Board members also discussed concerns pertaining to liability and enforcement of laws regarding bicycles on Toll 49. Owen said requiring bicyclists to have a toll tag is not feasible because toll tags must be put on a glass surface. Owen also added that the idea of requiring bicyclists to have specific licensing to use the toll road isn't very enforceable.

Advocates for keeping bicycles on Toll 49 said they wouldn't mind paying a toll to use the road.

The board discussed other toll roads in the state that allow bicycles. They said those roads have bicycle lanes that are separated from vehicle traffic lanes by a shoulder. Interim director Everett Owen said that plans for bicycles on those toll roads were built in to the toll road's initial plans. He added that the long term plans of Toll 49 include a bicycle lane, that is "off facility," or not directly on the same toll road vehicles travel.

At the meeting, a TxDOT engineer said Toll 49 was planned with federal regulations in mind that accommodate cyclists.

Chairman Linda Thomas said Toll 49 is not just a service to the community. Right now, it is a business and it weighs heavily on NET RMA's shoulders to get vehicle traffic on the road to pay it off.

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