Vidor Loop: Coalition Opposing Vidor Loop 299 airs concerns about proposed roadway

Ellen Buchanan

It was standing room only Nov. 15 at a meeting of The Coalition Opposing the Vidor Loop 299 as area residents flocked to the Holiday Inn Express & Suites at 20691 Interstate 10 in Vidor to air their concerns about the proposed roadway.

National, state and local conservation agencies participated in the discussion, as did Vidor Mayor Robert Viator, Vidor City Manager Mike Kunst and numerous other concerned community members. National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) representative Suzanne Dixon attended the meeting, making the trip from her home base in Washington, D.C., as did Erica Pelletier, a Dallas-based representative of the association. The Big Thicket Association, the Big Thicket National Trust, the Sierra Club, the Texas Conservation Alliance, the Native Plant Society of Texas – Beaumont and the Historic Orange Preservation Empowerment groups are all members of the coalition, along with the NPCA and numerous members of the community.

Dixon said some people have not heard about the loop and may not know about what she says are the potential perils associated with its construction.

“We’re here to educate people about Vidor Loop 299,” said Dixon. “We think it’s an issue that is front and center in this community, and there’s not a lot of education about it.

“This is not an economically viable option for this community. It’s going to take people around the town of Vidor. It’s going to take them away, and the businesses are going to suffer for that.

“You’ve also got the wetlands, Big Thicket National Preserve. It’s an economic driver. In 2015, it provided 112 jobs, $125 million in economic development. When you start looking at the economic and environmental impacts, that’s a double-whammy.”

President of the Big Thicket National Trust and chair of the Sierra Club, conservationist Ellen Buchanan led the Coalition meeting.

“The Vidor Loop 299 does not make financial, economic or environmental sense,” Buchanan said Nov. 15. “There is not a demonstrated purpose and need for this project. The financial, management and environmental hurdles … do not justify further expenditure of state or local taxpayer funds on Vidor Loop 299.”

Construction of the proposed Vidor Loop, or FM 299, would involve building a loop stretching from the north of Vidor at either FM 1132 or Conner Road, across the access road at Interstate 10 at the Church Street Overpass, and extending down past Lindberg Street just south of Walden Street in Vidor. The two-lane road would span approximately 6.8 miles along the west side of Vidor, about 340 feet from protected land of the Big Thicket National Preserve in some places. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) previously estimated 18,000 cars per day would travel the route. The estimate is now about 11,800 vehicles per day, according to information from the Coalition. The population of Vidor is 10,900 from the most recent census, according to the mayor.

The total projected cost of the Loop is currently estimated at $53 million. Orange County would have to expend about $30 million up front for construction of the road, which would be reimbursed through a TxDOT pass-through toll initiative. It is not a toll road, but TxDOT would reimburse the county based on the number of cars using the road on a daily basis.

Buchanan said she does not believe it is feasible that 11,800 per day would pass through on the road, meaning the reimbursement from TxDOT would likely be a lot less than projected. What does that mean?

“In Hays County, they built a road using the pass-through toll agreement,” Buchanan explained. “Hays County had to take out a loan for the money needed up front for construction. Now, they are paying back the loan with interest. The reimbursement payments they receive from TxDOT don’t even cover the interest on that loan.”

She said the same thing could happen in Orange County.

Buchanan said TxDOT first considered the roadway decades ago.

“It’s really been being talked about since the 1990s to alleviate traffic on Main Street, or 105, through downtown Vidor,” Buchanan asserted. “It’s been talked about for a long time.”

According to Vidor Mayor Viator, that was prior to widening 105 and construction in other areas, which has alleviated the traffic problem on Main Street.

“We don’t really have a problem with traffic on Main Street now,” Viator said. “And this Loop would divert traffic from downtown Vidor.”

He echoed Dixon’s concerns, saying diverting traffic means diverting business from Vidor, an economic peril for the small city.

Vidor, Bridge City, Orange, West Orange and Pinehurst City Councils have all voted to oppose spending county funds on Vidor Loop 299, but that did not stop Orange County Commissioners from approving a measure to move forward with the proposed project. Commissioners voted unanimously Oct. 11 to allow the project’s planners to go to the Transportation Commission to get “more information,” Judge Stephen Brint Carlton said in October.

Buchanan said that is just a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“It impacts all of Texas, really,” she said, since tax-funded TxDOT would be paying for a portion of the construction.

Among the many concerns expressed at the meeting, Buchanan said she is worried about the potential for flooding.

“I have yet to hear any of the planners use the word ‘hydrology,’” Buchanan remarked, pointing out, “The road would be built in the flood plain. … Who wants to build a business in the flood plain?”

She said when construction starts, the builders would have to build up the land, creating a new flood plain area, which would require a new flood plain map, and which would likely cause flooding in subdivisions surrounding the area where the road would be constructed.

Vidor resident Renee Leasure said she is against the loop.

“The county commissioner who represents Vidor (Jody Crump) is in favor of the Loop, and he is pushing for it,” she said, adding that she feels he does not speak for the citizens of Vidor.

Crump indicated his unwavering support for the project at the Oct. 11 Commissioners Court meeting in Orange.

What happens next, Buchanan said, is up to the community. She said anyone opposing the project has a limited time to express their opinions and to take action as the planners will be before the Transportation Commission in mid-December.

“Contact your representatives,” said Buchanan. “Contact the county commissioners. Contact the county judge. Contact members of the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission and the TxDOT Commission. Tell your neighbors. Pass out fliers.”

For more information on the project and to learn how to have your voice heard, contact the Coalition Opposing Vidor Loop 299 at (409) 790-5399 or texas [at] npca [dot] org.