State transportation officials believe widening a half-mile section U.S. Highway 377 (Main Street) in Brownwood to accommodate a center left-turn lane would reduce the number of traffic collisions.
    But several citizens who spoke at a public meeting held by Texas Department of Transportation officials at Texas State Technical College believe it’s a bad idea, saying it would encroach on churches that are already dangerously close to the street. That particularly puts children in danger by being so close to the street, several citizens said.
    Citizens suggested instead creating a truck route along West Austin between Commerce and Main, and improving the intersection at those two streets to accommodate turning trucks.
    About 100 attended the meeting, and Jason Scantling, director of transportation for TxDOT’s Brownwood district, explained the purposes, preliminary costs and possible timeline of the proposed project. TxDOT proposes widening the section of Main Street from Baker Street to near Wesley Street, near the base of the Truman Harlow Overpass.
    TxDOT had photos set up showing the proposed project and right-of-way options, and several TxDOT officials were available to speak with individuals or small groups on an informal basis before and after the meeting.
    Scantling stressed that TxDOT has not made any decisions and wants the public’s input on the project, which has a preliminary construction cost of $6.5 million and right-of-way acquisition costs of an additional $4 million or $2.5 million, depending on which two options would be chosen.
    Public input could mean the project goes either goes forward or is scrapped. Scantling also said it could mean only part of the  project is done, and he also said TxDOT could look further into the truck route proposal several citizens suggested.
     TxDOT has been looking at the project fore 20-plus years, Scantling said. He said 15,000 to 18,000 vehicles travel the road each day and traffic counts are expected to climb. The accident rate on that part of the road is higher than state average, and a factor is the lack of a center left-turn lane, Scantling said.
    He said some accidents are rear-end collisions and others are caused by drivers attempting to turn left and causing collisions. Since January 2014, there have been 70 traffic crashes on that part of the road, Scantling said.
    Scantling acknowledged that a center turn lane would reduce but not eliminate all of the accidents.
    “There is a big cost to this,” Scantling said, adding TxDOT is mindful of the impact to churches, businesses, residences and historical buildings.
    A potential timeline would include further public meetings, with plans finalized by January 2019 and the letting of bids as early as January 2022.
    “A do-nothing option is certainly on the table,” Scantling said.
    Scantling also said the City of Brownwood would be required to pay a percentage of the right-of-way acquisition cost. That percentage could be as law as 2.8 percent if the city agrees to participate during a fiscal year when the Texas Legislature has designated Brown County as an economically disadvantaged county, Scantling said.
     The county currently carries that designation, but the city’s participation would be higher without it, Scantling said. He did not know whether the county will be designated as such in the 2017-’18 fiscal year.
    “We won’t move forward without the support of the city and city leaders,” Scantling said.
    While a small percentage of those attending the meeting asked questions or made comments, none of the speakers indicated support.
    Main Street was never intended to be a highway, several noted, and one man said the city needs to “bite the bullet” and build a bypass.
    “I’m tired of churches being pushed in the corner,” retired pastor Jack Ruth said, one of several who expressed concern for the safety of the churches along that stretch of road. “You guys are pushing something on us.”
    Another speaker said citizens need to “protect our churches … I think it’s wrong. I think we need time to think about it.”