Brandon Bell

After decades of campaigning by local and state leaders, the Texas Department of Transportation has listed projects to widen sections of Highway 82 and Highway 271 on its drafted 2020 Unified Transportation Plan.

The proposal is a multi-year comprehensive plan for the development and construction of transportation projects in Texas, including roadways, aviation, public transportation, waterways and coastal waters and rail projects; and it includes specific funding levels for each fiscal year.

TxDOT area engineer Dan Perry said the proposed plan, to be finalized in August, approves funding for widening Highway 82 from Paris to Fannin County and widening Highway 271 to Bogata. Funding had previously been approved for widening Highway 271 from Paris to Pattonville, Perry said.

“This is great news for the county,” County Judge Brandon Bell said. “This is huge for our local economy, and a lot of people are excited about this. There are probably going to be some kinks to work out, but that’s to be expected.”

In total, the plan draft calls for 16 miles of Highway 82 and about 20 miles of Highway 271 to be widened, if it passes without alterations. Perry said work on widening the highways is expected to begin in 2023. Predicting how long construction will take once it starts, however, is trickier, he said.

“With 82, I think it’s safe to say it’ll take about three and a half to four years to complete,” Perry said. “With 271, it’s not as easy to say. We need to figure out a timeline and determine whether we want to break it into two projects, three projects, or just do it all at once.”

Not only would work on 271 require more logistical planning, but other factors likely would complicate it, too, he said.

“There’s not going to be a lot of bridge work on 82 West, and that takes more time,” Perry said. “There would be some bridge work on 271 that’d be necessary.”

Before construction begins, TxDOT will need to go through the standard bidding process for large projects. However, before it gets to that point, Perry said, the state needs to finish crafting the plans, which includes a stage of public input.

Perry said there would be several public meetings in which residents can voice concerns or ideas. No dates are officially set yet, but he said he hopes to begin that process in the fall.

Construction shouldn’t impact traffic too much, outside of some parts of road occasionally being limited to one lane for brief periods of time, Perry said.

He stressed the drafted plan is not set in stone, and it won’t be approved until the end of August.

“I want people to understand this is tentative,” he said. “It’s not common (for TxDOT to change plans after publishing the UTP draft) but anything is possible. And even if it’s in the UTP, it’s not entirely guaranteed.”

For decades, local leaders have pushed for the widening, reaching a head last year with a region-wide letter writing campaign. Former county judge Chuck Superville, who for years pushed for the widening, said the economic benefit to Lamar County will be enormous.

“This will be huge for the county, it’ll basically be four SpiralWelds — that’s how big this is,” Superville said, referring to American SpiralWeld Pipe Co., which is in the process of expanding operations into Paris.

Perry noted the widening also will lower the cost of operations for manufacturers in the area.

“Really, this benefits everybody,” Perry said.

In 2018, the Lamar County Commissioners’ Court, Paris City Council, Reno City Council, Paris Economic Development Corp. and other local governmental bodies voiced project support via resolutions. Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, also lent a hand.

“This is great news for Paris and Lamar County,” Superville said. “I took office in December of 1995, and from day one, we’ve been pushing for this. Every year, the widening has been a major focus point to turn Paris and Lamar County into a transportation hub, and those two corridors are gigantic steps forward.”

Don Wall, former president of the East Texas Highway Association and former chairman of the Sulphur River Regional Mobility Authority, said he believes that community push got the widening projects on the Unified Transportation Plan.

“There’s no question, I think the community’s full support had a huge part in getting this pushed through,” Wall said. “There are five major highway routes, and Paris can become a transportation mecca.”

Superville urged residents and community leaders to continue pushing to have the remainder of thoroughfares in and out of Paris widened.

“I hope the people politely insist that they continue to work on 82, 271 and (Loop 286),” Superville said. “But still, this is an important step and the future of Lamar County is very, very, very bright.”

Tommy Culkin is a staff writer for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6972 or at tommy.culkin@theparisnews.com.

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