City, county oppose Brooks Road overpass removal

The Brooks Road overpass, if closed, will affect access to public facilities.

The citizenry spoke and the city listened, unanimously approving a resolution opposing the removal of the Brooks Road overpass as proposed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), part of an ongoing interstate widening project.

During the Beaumont City Council’s final meeting of 2017, held Dec. 19, citizens approached the podium to tell their representatives why they feel the overpass is needed and should not be removed. Beaumont resident Patrick Phelan told the council the overpass provides convenient and safe passage for those who live in nearby neighborhoods.

“As you know, Brooks Road feeds into the entertainment complex,” Phelan said, referring to Ford Park. “It feeds into the BISD (Beaumont Independent School District) complex. It’s really crucial for access to be retained. We would wholeheartedly urge you to do so.

“We don’t understand the reasons for wanting to remove it. We’ve heard the arguments, the reasons for it, but they don’t make sense to us.”

Not only does the Brooks Road overpass lead to the Ford Park entertainment complex, it is also a pathway to the Ben J. Rogers Regional Visitor Center. Visitor center Director Kathi Hughes was next to address the council during the meeting and said she was coming to them as the director, as a BISD parent and as a Beaumont resident, who happens to live on the opposite side of the interstate from her place of business. According to her, she uses the overpass up to eight times a day.

“I just want to encourage you to approve the resolution to keep it,” Hughes told council. “I can just see the importance of the (overpass). It’s a nice way to not have to go through all the lights to get home, to get to lunch, to business meetings, and then back to work. Being there (at the visitor center), we see the traffic that goes on during the fair or … during the football games. It’s just going to be a mess, and I think you already know that.”

People from all over the world visit the center, said Hughes. 

“We’ve seen (people from) over 96 countries. We see over 60,000 people in one year. It’s not out of the ordinary to see 5,000 in a month.”

But those numbers could decrease significantly with the removal of the Brooks Road overpass, warned Hughes. She said she already gets complaints from people, visiting from locations nearby to the far reaches of the globe, who tell her the center is too far from the exit off the interstate as it is. The Brooks Road overpass removal would cause them to have to travel even farther out of their way to stop at the visitor center, and would certainly increase the number of complaints she receives while reducing the number of visitors, Hughes worried.

“We are two miles from the exit when you’re going eastbound, so you get off at the Major Drive exit, and it’s two miles to the visitors’ center,” she described. “Then, when people leave, they feel like they’ve been on the access road for 10 miles. … They go, ‘How do we get back going west?’ We’re able to point out and say, ‘There is your crossover right there. It’s just half a mile or so.’ You can just see that they relax.

“Or, if they are trying to go eastbound, then they have another two miles. So, if you close (Brooks Road overpass), they’re going to go a total of four miles and another two – so that’s six; they’re going to think they went to Jupiter. So, we’ll have lots of complaints.”

Ward 2 Councilman Mike Getz said he attended a town hall meeting during which the Brooks Road closure was discussed, in spite of what he insinuated was an attempt by TxDOT to conceal, or at least gloss over, the Brooks Road overpass removal.

“Of course, they didn’t really publicize the fact that part of the expansion project was going to be the removal of the Brooks Road overpass, but word got out and people did attend that meeting,” Getz remarked following citizen comments pertaining to the resolution in the agenda. “Everyone I spoke to echoes the sentiments of Mr. Phelan and Ms. Hughes that they oppose the removal of this. This is in my ward. I have talked to a lot of people out in the Willow Creek area that would be tremendously impacted.”

Getz said there is a lot more to consider than mere inconvenience.

“It’s a matter of public safety,” he said. “It would increase response times, not having that overpass there. The arguments for removing it are just not very strong.”

With that, Getz made the motion to approve the consent agenda including the resolution opposing the removal of the Brooks Road overpass.

The day before the city approved its resolution opposing the removal of the Brooks Road overpass, the county did the same. County commissioners unanimously approved the resolution opposing the removal of Brooks Road during their meeting Dec. 18.

Pct. 2 Commissioner Brent Weaver said people had reached out to him to voice their concerns about the proposed removal of the overpass, and he is concerned about it, too.

“Obviously, there are some concerns,” said Weaver. “I talked with some folks in law enforcement.”

He said law enforcement is concerned about the possibility of the increased response times to emergency calls in neighborhoods near Brooks Road where the overpass is utilized by emergency vehicles.

County engineer Don Rao said TxDOT completed a traffic study. 

“They have been working with a consultant to provide plans, et cetera, for this project,” he said. “This (plan to remove Brooks Road) has basically been done as a recommendation from that consulting engineering firm.”

Rao said he had been working with fellow engineer and City of Beaumont Public Works Director Dr. Joseph Majdalani to assess the value of TxDOT’s proposal to remove the overpass.

“We don’t recommend this removal,” Rao told commissioners. “We’ve got a lot of items in that area that depend on that overpass.”

Pct. 4 Commissioner Everett “Bo” Alfred said he thinks removing the Brooks Road overpass is a bad idea, and said local residents must stay informed about proposed projects and legislation that could impact them, such as TxDOT’s plan to remove the overpass.

“We have to stay vigilant,” Alfred suggested. “The city of Beaumont is against it, but not only that, each and every elected official over there is against it. The landowners are against it. The residents that live in Willow Creek are against it. The ones on the opposite side on 124 are against it. I haven’t heard anyone that’s for it. That’s why it’s so troubling.”

According to TxDOT representative Sarah Dupre, one reason behind the proposed removal is financial. The expense of removing and rebuilding the overpass at the height necessitated by the widening project far exceeds the cost of simply removing it, she said.

Although public outcry in Orange County had little effect when municipalities throughout the area approved resolutions indicating they did not want a “Vidor Loop” there, as the planning committee considering the project allowed it to go forward with environmental studies in spite of the numerous voices against it, Dupre said TxDOT may consider these resolutions when ultimately deciding what to do about Brooks Road.

“Things have changed in the past based on public feedback,” said Dupre. “The resolutions are given to the planning department, along with any other comments we have received.”

Right now, Dupre confirmed, the plan is still to remove the overpass.

Sharon Brooks can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 241, or by e-mail at sharon [at] theexaminer [dot] com.