Businesses, property owners taking sides in debate over proposed overpass on Tyler loop

The interchange would be constructed at the intersection of SSW Loop 323 and Old Jacksonville Hwy.

Businesses, residents taking sides in debate over proposed overpass on Tyler loop

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - A project designed to alleviate congestion in south Tyler is facing opposition from a group of businesses and residents, even though construction is at least four years away.

The Texas Department of Transportation has announced several projects as part of an improvement plan for Farm to Market Road 2493 (Old Jacksonville Highway). Preliminary plans for Old Jacksonville between Loop 323 south to FM 2813 in Gresham include: Widening from four lanes with a continuous center turn lane to a six-lane roadway with a raised median; Reconfiguring its intersection at Rice Road to improve turning movement; Constructing grade-separated interchanges at its intersections with Loop 323 and Grande Boulevard; and incorporating sidewalks and six-foot bicycle facilities, where applicable.

The overpass at Loop 323, which TxDOT estimates would cost $30 million, is proposed for the eastbound and westbound lanes of the loop.

It has already drawn the objection of a group of property owners and businesses located in the right of way.

On June 26, the Coalition of Concerned Businesses and Residents, led by Brookshire Grocery Company and Classic Toyota, sent a letter to the Tyler Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, outlining opposition to the overpass.

Brookshire Grocery Company corporate headquarters and distribution facility are located on the south corner of the intersection, while Classic Toyota operates a car dealership on the north side.

“It would actually create a bigger problem by forcing even more traffic traffic congestion in the direction of Loop 323 and South Broadway which is already identified as one of the top 100 most congested intersections in the State of Texas,” the letter stated.

Map illustrating the right of way assessment of Old Jacksonville Highway and Loop 323 intersection.
Map illustrating the right of way assessment of Old Jacksonville Highway and Loop 323 intersection. (Source: Texas Dept. of Transportation)

The MPO, which is comprised of elected officials and city employees from Smith County municipalities, as well as representatives from TxDOT and North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority (NETRMA), prioritizes how federal transportation funding will be spent in the region.

TxDOT hosted a public meeting on April 23, 2019 to discuss the proposed improvements to Old Jacksonville Highway.

An MPO Policy Committee meeting scheduled for June 25 was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, a virtual meeting has been set for July 30 at Tyler City Hall.

In its letter, the Coalition requested the MPO call a special meeting and vote to remove the interchange from the agency’s plan.

“We adamantly oppose the construction project because of the determinantal effect it will have on our daily operations and other businesses in the area,” a spokesperson for Brookshire Grocery Company stated. “As an essential business serving the East Texas community for more than 92 years, we have streamlined our operations to be able to best serve Tyler and the more than 150 communities that depend on our distribution center. We are proud to be part of the Tyler business community and hope the committee will recognize the serious impact this project would have on our continued operations and those of others businesses in this area.”

Tyler City Councilman Bob Westbrook represents District 5, including the area around the proposed interchange. The former chair of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce and longtime businessman says the improvement project is critical for the city.

“We’re talking about transportation needs for the next 40 to 50 years. So when the money from this project goes away, should it not be funded, should it just simply be eliminated, then that money will never come back.”

Westbrook says the consequence of not supporting this project may be more gridlock similar to South Broadway Avenue.

“Instead of having four lanes of traffic backed up, now you’re going to have six lanes of traffic backed up. And it will be even harder to get through that intersection.”

Brookshire Grocery Company and Classic Toyota say TxDOT has failed to address “fundamental operation and access issues” in the preliminary project designs.

“With the traffic signal remaining at the Loop and Kinsey Lane, the overpass becomes increasingly nonsensical in the context of mobility,” the letter stated.

Westbrook says the plan employs “big city engineering” to safely and efficiently move vehicular traffic through the area.

“TxDOT has provided several different scenarios for that intersection to accommodate ingress and egress by the Brookshires delivery trucks and their suppliers and so on.”

Pointing to expected growth in Tyler, Westbrook pointed to property development in both the south and western sections of the city.

“It’s absolutely imperative that we look to the future for transportation needs. And not look for what’s happening today. And that’s exactly what Brookshires is doing.”

The coalition’s letter stated the construction would have a detrimental impact on residential neighborhoods.

“For instance, going north on Old Jacksonville, do you really want to funnel six lanes of traffic to two through the Azalea District and past two schools on street surfaces that are not meant to handle the resulting weight and traffic of such a poorly planned design?”

Westbrook encouraged supporters of the overpass to contact members of the MPO before the July 30 meeting.

If the project moves forward, TxDOT says the next steps include: a second public meeting tentatively scheduled for this Fall, a public hearing next Summer, environmental clearance by the end of 2021, and right-of-way acquisitions in 2022.

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