As promised, the SH 105 bypass has diverted a lot of through-traffic in Cleveland since it opened in 2011. However, on any given day, a substantial number of vehicles still drive through the downtown area along Houston Street (SH 321). With two rapid-growth schools – Cleveland High School and Cleveland Middle School – located on Houston Street and a significant number of students walking to and from those schools, pedestrian safety is a constant concern.
During peak hours of traffic, particularly when students are arriving and leaving the schools, Cleveland ISD positions district police officers at the busiest intersections, helping to ensure that students cross safely. A new proposed skywalk for the area may help even further.
Earlier this week the City of Cleveland submitted a grant proposal to the Texas Department of Transportation to fund construction of an elevated skywalk. The grant is within the 2021 Transportation Alternatives Call for Projects.
“The deadline to submit was pushed back to March 8, 2021, due to weather outages; however, we completed the application prior to March and submitted in an effort to gain such funding. Thankfully, [Liberty County] Judge Knight and David Douglas (head of the County’s engineering program) brought this project to our attention and have been exceptional partners in assisting us with grants,” said Pennington. “The project is an elevated crossing over Houston Street (SH321) near the high school for students and other pedestrians due to the vehicle and pedestrian incidents we had over the years. We received a confirmation email from TxDOT confirming our submittal.”
Pennington said the TxDOT project is to improve safety, access, mobility for people (all ages and abilities) and enhance bicycle/pedestrian access and safety to school destinations.
Knight says he asked Douglas to look for funding opportunities after becoming alarmed at the number of children he saw darting across traffic on a recent visit to Cleveland.
“I drove by there just before the ice storm. Traffic was really bad and I sat there for a moment and watched kids running out into traffic to cross the street,” Knight said. “I asked David to look into possible grants to fund a skywalk, and he found one pretty quickly through TxDOT.”
The County reached out to Pennington, who was on board, and even helped with filling out portions of the paperwork so that the City could meet the grant application deadline of March 8.
“It’s a needed project. We will still need to look at the elevation for clearance of large trucks going into Cleveland, but the way I look at it is we have the bobber in the water and now we just have to set the hook,” said Knight.
Cleveland ISD Superintendent Chris Trotter is hoping the grant will be approved.
“I think the skywalk would be an opportunity for our kids to get across that street in a safer manner. It would also enhance the traffic patterns because we won’t have officers out there stopping traffic for the kids to cross. I am in full support,” he said.
Pennington said the skywalk project, if funded, comes at a great time for the City of Cleveland.
“We are looking at our Safe Routes to School initiative,” said Pennington, adding that recent sidewalk improvements downtown will ultimately be linked to schools.
While the skywalk and sidewalk projects may not be important to all residents, particularly those who are concerned that funding is being diverted from road repairs, Pennington said that is not the case.
“We went out for bids on our pothole program and the bids were good. That will be on our council agenda for March 16,” he said.
The pothole repair project will be for all areas of the city, not one specific street or zone. The City also has slated $1 million for paving repairs. Initially two streets considered for repaving were Shell Ave. and Jefferson Street, as both lead into Eastside Elementary. Pennington said he hopes to take a closer look at those plans to see if there are other areas in the City that need attention first.
“I kind of think we need to spread it out more. We have some short blocks in the city that need some help, too. We just have to look at the water and sewer lines underneath to determine which streets are good to go ahead and pave,” he said. “We know we have paving issues in the city that need attention. I know a lot of folks realize the priority there but I believe we can do both projects – the sidewalks and the street repairs.”