Meetings of the Stephenville Planning and Zoning Commission can be contentious sometimes, and the meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 17, has all the makings for exactly that.
One of the main agenda items is a proposal by the Texas Department of Transportation - citing safety concerns − to close two railroad crossings in Stephenville, one on McNeil Street and the other on Belknap Street.
In exchange, TxDOT would install “signalized infrastructures” at College Farm Road as well as on Vanderbilt Street.
The city ran a public notice in the E-T on July 5, and posted it outside City Hall to inform the public about the next P&Z meeting to be held on Aug. 17, at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.
But the idea has been met with resistance by two people the E-T spoke with who will be in on the final decision: Mark Wallace, a member of the P&Z Commission, and Carla Trussell, a member of the Stephenville City Council.
“If Belknap is closed at the RR crossing, this closes a vital artery from Lingleville Highway to downtown," Wallace said. "It will also cause a hardship on those who live on McNeil.”
Trussell made her position on the proposal very clear as well.
“I will not vote for closing any streets and inconveniencing the citizens," she said.
She went on to express her concerns in greater detail, stating the council was not given the necessary data to make an informed decision. She said they were given traffic count data for the Belknap and McNeil crossings only. (Belknap 2,782 crossings, McNeil 1,296 crossings in a 163-hour period)
"I suspect the number of crossings at the other two locations is significantly less, but we were not provided with that data," Trussell said. "The data on McNeil was skewed because the traffic count was done the week after Tarleton was out for the summer."
She said McNeil is an alternate route for parents picking up and bringing children to Central Elementary for those seeking to avoid the congestion on Washington Street.
“Citizens living on McNeil have trouble accessing Washington from McIlhaney during peak traffic areas and often access Washington by crossing the tracks and going to the light at Alexander Road by Sonic,” she said. “Also several multi-family complexes have been built in the Belknap Street area and that has increased traffic on Belknap.”
She said the council was not provided any data on the history of wrecks or fatalities for the proposed crossing closings although safety was alluded to as a reason for closing theses crossings.
"I am 63 and am not aware of any fatalities at either of these crossings during my lifetime,” she said.
Trussell made it clear that city officials welcome citizen input at the July 20 meeting.
“It is important for concerned citizens to attend the P&Z meeting next Wednesday to voice objections to the street closings," she said. “If the P&Z gives a favorable recommendation to the street closing it will require a two-thirds vote of the council to override the P&Z recommendation.”
Another concern of Trussell’s is that the city just spent a significant amount of money resurfacing Belknap Street.
“That expenditure was for naught if they close Belknap Street,” she said.