REFUGIO COUNTY – Plans to reroute Highway 77 in Refugio County continue, and two representatives of the Texas Department of Transportation provided the Refugio County Commissioners Court with an update of the multi-year process.

In August and September, Refugio County property owners along the proposed route will receive letters requesting right of entry so that TXDOT employees and contractors can survey those areas.

Robert Isassi, the area engineer for the TXDOT Corpus Christi Area office, who is based in Sinton, and Victor Vourcos, a TxDOT engineer, informed county leaders of the stage the planned improvements has reached, and what can be expected in the future during a meeting on July 28.

“The goal is for Highway 77 to be upgraded to interstate standards,” Isassi said. He noted that the discussion phase actually began in 2017 before Hurricane Harvey hit the area. The area of road which will be improved stretches from south of Woodsboro to north of Refugio near Toup Road. The current portion of road through Refugio could be designated as Business 77, as the new portion of the highway would be relocated to the east of Refugio.

TXDOT planners had originally suggested multiple options for the portion of the road near Refugio, including plans to expand the road through the middle of town, locating it west of town or placing it east of the community.

After discussions with community leaders, business owners and residents, TXDOT decided on a modified route east of Refugio and commissioned an environmental study of the impact of building that route.

“The route study was completed in 2018, and an environmental study of two to three years began which includes looking at whether to build or not build alternates, schematic development, environmental impacts, public input and environmental decisions.

The highway department is developing a detailed roadway alignment plan as part of the process.

A next step will involve visiting different locations throughout Refugio County to do site surveys, which will include notifying property owners of the need for representatives of TxDOT to access those properties.

“It’s a wide corridor, so there is a lot of room for wiggle — the exact location (of the new Highway 77 route) has not been determined,” Vourcos said. “Michael Baker International is the consulting firm which will help with the environmental studies.”

Property owners who receive the letters should understand that no decision has been made about exactly where the road will be located, Vourcos said.

“Just because someone gets a letter, doesn’t mean the road will go through that property,” he said. “This is just preliminary. There will be ample opportunity for public input.”

Following the environmental study, there will be a two to three year right of way acquisition process. Vourcos said the final design of the highway and construction plan will be devised during that stage. At that point, TxDOT would be able to present the plan to a contractor, Vourcos said.

The construction phase would last another three to four years after a contract is awarded.

In the coming weeks, those interested in following the progress of TxDOT’s Highway 77 plans will be able to find information online by doing an internet search for TxDot.gov and entering the key words “U.S. 77 Woodsboro/Refugio.” Vourcos said during the meeting that the information is not online yet, but soon will be.

“Each of these stages is dependent on funding,” said Refugio County Judge Bobby Blaschke. “I guess you do have funding to do the environmental study?”

“Yes,” Vourcos said. “We do have the funds to do the environmental work and can move into the utility stage. At this time we do not have actual construction dollars.”

Blashke asked if letters would be mailed out just to people along the proposed Highway 77 construction route or to the general public. He added that information would also be made available to local media to help inform the public.

“The right of entry letters will go to a list developed from tax rolls, and we can send newsletters to the same address,” Vourcos said.

“This is a very important issue for the community,” Blaschke said. “We need to work through that and embrace the change that is happening.”

The next TxDOT update will be made in six months or earlier, Vourcos said. “We are also looking at making presentations to the city of Woodsboro and Refugio individually,” he added.

Jeff Osborne is the editor of the County Press and can be reached at 361-526-2397 or at josborne@mySouTex.com.

 

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