Citizens speak during Transportation Master Plan meeting
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Citizens voiced their concerns and opinions and received answers to some of their questions regarding the proposed Business 190 median project and the construction on sidewalks in downtown Copperas Cove at the third public meeting for the Transportation Master Plan that was held Tuesday evening.
Alexander Flores, a transportation planner with Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, began the presentation focused on the master plan, which is nearing the final stages and will be then be released in the form of a document for the public to view before city council votes on it.
Before Flores answered questions about the other projects, he explained what went into the master plan that LAN and Copperas Cove have been working on for the past 18 months. There are three questions to be answered- What does Copperas Cove have? What does Copperas Cove want? How does Copperas Cove get there?
They looked at the infrastructure that Cove has already, which Flores described as a “network of networks” made up of multiple layers of infrastructure built on top of each other. That network is made of the rail network, which essentially divides the city almost in half, Flores said. To move from North to South, traffic goes through certain chokepoints, which creates dysconnectivity in neighborhoods and sidewalk paths, he said.
It’s also made of the road network and the sidewalk network, which he referred to as “active transportation.”
Active transportation refers to any trips or transportation made under one’s own power- through walking, biking, or mobility devices. Flores explained that the active transportation network in Cove is disconnected.
“You can see how it was created over time on a specific parcel by parcel basis, not necessarily done as a city-wide initiative,” Flores said.
After determining what is available, they then looked for feedback into what Copperas Cove should want.
Flores said that through holding public meetings, getting comments from those meetings, talking with local business and city leaders and through an online survey, they received “extensive feedback.”
The survey had 250 respondents, which Flores said was actually 10 times more than most cities would expect to get. The demographics of the respondents was varied enough that they felt it was representative enough of Copperas Cove’s 33,000-plus residents, Flores said.
Of those 250 surveyed, they had to rank in order which was most important to them, with the majority ranking Safety as most important and Traffic Congestion coming in second. Sidewalk connectivity came in at number four of six for importance, Flores said. However, when asked to rank in order of what they were happiest with, sidewalk connectivity came in last, while traffic congestion came in first.
“More people are happy with the traffic in Cove than unhappy with the traffic in Cove, and that’s almost unheard of,” Flores said.
Flores moved on to talking about the goal of “creating a city whose transportation network improves the quality of life for the citizens,” where children can walk to school and people could walk or bike to work rather than drive.
A citizen mentioned to Flores that people don’t want to walk and brought up the Business 190 Median project, and the addition of the sidewalk and bike lane. The citizen said he didn’t think that enough people biked to warrant taking out a lane. Flores said that that may be in part to them not feeling comfortable or safe enough to do so.
After repeated concerns over the median project, Flores, who is not connected to BPS, the engineering firm behind the designing and planning of the Bus. 190 project, paused his presentation and said he was putting on his “traffic engineer hat.”
The majority of the traffic delay that a driver experiences on an urban corridor, 80 to 90 percent, occurs at the intersection, Flores said.
“Efficiently timing those intersections, efficiently creating the number of turning lanes, the number of through lanes, the number of lights, is what really impacts the overall corridor performance level,” Flores said. “Sometimes removing center turning lanes, and creating specific turning lanes, specific bays so not allowing people to cross at every point, at certain locations, improves the overall flow of the traffic.”
After continued questions about the Median project, Copperas Cove city planner Charlotte Hitchman stepped in to clarify what that project entailed.
The median project, which was discussed as far back as June 2015 and will begin construction fall 2019, consists of a 10-foot wide sidewalk on the McDonald’s side of Business 190 that will act as a pedestrian and bicycling space, and turning the center turn lane from the Business 190/Avenue D intersection to the Constitution Drive intersection into a median, with controlled access turn lanes, according to Hitchman. Most importantly, the renderings that were released are not concrete renderings- they are not finished designing anything yet as the project is still in the design phase, she said.
“If there is any way within the current right of way, if we can help out with access and safety and provide some livability, functionality and help out mobility with adding that 10-foot sidewalk so we do have that transit component, pedestrian component and bicycle component, that’s the goal,” Hitchman said. “So any area where they can keep that extra lane of traffic, they will. And it might be where for this stretch you have 3 lanes of traffic on this side and two lanes of traffic on the other side and it might go back and forth depending on right of way needs.”
Business 190 will still be a TxDOT roadway and function as an arterial roadway, Hitchman said.
It is a business corridor instead of a highway but will still have to meet TxDOT standards, meaning that all of those turning radiuses discussed will still have to account for traffic trucks and for fire trucks, Hitchman added.
Citizens also asked about the funding of a project they weren’t happy with. Hitchman explained the process that projects and plans go through- from ideas to plans adopted by the city council to projects before being refined into a specific project that the city will compete against Killeen, Temple or Belton for funding for.
The $7.5 million for the Business 190 median project comes from those funds from TxDOT and from the Killeen-Temple Metropolitan Planning Organization, not from city tax dollars, Hitchman said. The city council approved submitting transportation projects, including the Bus. 190 Phase I-III projects, for funding in August 2016.
Another concern was regarding the Hwy 9 bypass around Cove and why it didn’t connect to the Five Hills Shopping Center. Mayor Frank Seffrood explained that that project was for the U.S. Army, with the interest to move the military from Tank Destroyer Blvd to US 190 and out.
“It was not designed to be a convenience to the city of Copperas Cove or any other purpose,” Seffrood said.
Flores moved back to the presentation regarding the Thoroughfare Master Plan, and touched on the third question from earlier regarding how to get to a Copperas Cove that is livable and has a good quality of life. He explained that roads serve a purpose, which can be accessibility or mobility, urban or rural. Flores said that they’ve looked at each individual road in Cove and its purpose and ended up with a new classification of roads- arterials, collectors and locals. Arterial roads are major roads like Bus. 190 and minor roads like FM 116; collector roads are roads used to get from arterial roads to local roads, such as roads like Big Divide or N. Main St; and local roads are the residential roads.
Flores moved on to explain what projects could be completed. While the city can’t afford to put new sidewalks in everywhere, there are locations where a sidewalk is one of the top priorities, such as where a well-worn path is on a road near an elementary school. Other projects include safety improvements to reduce crashes or others to possibly relieve traffic congestion.
Another important project would deal with improving the railroad crossings while another would deal with the implementation of traffic signals, Flores said. There would also be new road connections to “fill in the little gaps that have occurred in the network over the last 60 years, because no one has taken a step back and looked at the network as a whole,” Flores said.
The masterplan includes almost 60 projects to be implemented over the next 20 years. These projects will be prioritized based on categories of safety, mobility, development and implementation, Flores said.
Projects like sidewalks are cheaper than other projects, so if the city does the smaller projects that are less expensive and faster first, it’s possible to accomplish the long-term goals more effectively, Flores said.
The Transportation Master Plan, which is 90 percent complete, will be released to the public through the city’s website before heading to the city council for approval, but Hitchman said she wasn’t aware of when exactly that would be.