An $11.5 million grant could set the city back more than a century.
The money from the North Central Texas Council of Governments will help the city “bring back Weatherford’s original historic downtown square,” read a news release.
When the dust settles, the square would look a lot more like it did not long after the courthouse was built in 1885, said City Manager Sharon Hayes.
Hayes described what the square evolved into as “four islands, instead of the intended community gathering area. Even with 40,000 people at Peach Festival, we still have traffic going through north and south. We’ve lost the walkability of the square.”
The project also could involve a swap that will give portions of U.S. 180, Farm Road 51 (Main Street), and Farm Road 2552 to Weatherford, shifting control from the Texas Department of Transportation to the town.
“This control will allow Weatherford to redirect truck traffic away from the central core of the community,” said Terry Hughes, the city’s director of capital improvements projects. He added that the region’s 20-year projection predicted as many as 24,000 vehicles per day passing through on U.S. 180. Traffic crawling along 180 and 51 through the two-lane oval that skirts the courthouse already is frustrating.
And all it takes is one extra-long tractor-trailer to make a ball of worms and bring everything to a halt.
“The projected numbers would place the traffic conditions on the square at an unmanageable level that could undermine the community’s desire for a strong and vibrant downtown,” the news release read.
Traffic headaches abound
A report from the council of governments’ study confirmed local officials’ assessments.
“Traffic going from one section of the town to another is forced through the downtown area when [drivers have] no interest in the downtown area, because no alternate routes have been provided,” the report stated. “Consequently, there should be streets around the outskirts of the downtown area permitting through-traffic movements to bypass the central business district.”
Weatherford got the bypass ball rolling in 2014, opening the Ric Williamson Memorial Highway’s western loop. Southbound drivers on FM 51 north of town can take the half-loop rather than going through Weatherford to reach U.S. 180 or Interstate 20. The other half of the loop eventually will take westbound through traffic off of 180 before it reaches the square, and carry it out to join the western loop.
The city’s goal is to turn the courthouse square into Heritage Square, officials said, finally accomplishing something residents have demanded for decades.
Hughes said traffic-pattern proposals to skirt the downtown area have been on City Council agendas since a 1961 thoroughfare study. It earned higher priority this decade.
“In 2011, Weatherford started updating its thoroughfare plan,” Hughes said. “The idea is to bring traffic off 180 at Santa Fe, loop around the south side of the square on widened existing roads — Spring, Bridge to Alamo and back to 180. And, we’re exploring the use of a roundabout.”
‘Original square concept’
City officials look at a century-old photo of the courthouse square for inspiration. The square captured by that photographer was one that was easily navigated on foot.
“We want to capture the original square concept as depicted in a circa-1915 photo,” Hughes said.
Hayes said that working with the state to “take back control of the highways going through the city” is the crux of a recently drafted memorandum of understanding.
“We will give the west loop [Ric Williamson] to the state, and they’ll give us the stretch of 51 that’s inside our city limits,” Hayes said. “The west loop will become 51, and through truck traffic will be routed onto it. We’ll redirect 180 traffic down to I-20, or divert it to the northern loop.”
Parker County is acquiring rights of way and designing what will become the eastern loop of Ric Williamson Highway from Centerpoint Road to FM 51 and the western loop, Hayes said.
Last week, the NCTCOG’s Regional Transportation Council awarded $11,552,000 for the city’s bypass, Hayes said.
Once the money’s in the bank next year, the tricky part becomes getting started, Hughes said. Designing should start in early 2019.
“I think we’re looking at three years to completion,” Hughes said.