The Texas Department of Transportation is asking Nueces County residents to attend a public meeting in Driscoll to comment and provide input on proposed upgrades of US 77 to a controlled access facility that meets interstate standards.

The purpose of the meetings is to review proposed options for upgrading US 77 and to present recommendations, TxDOT officials said. The first round public meetings were held in early March.

This second round of public meetings is being held as part of TxDOT's continued effort to gain public input on issues related to proposed improvements and to provide an opportunity for public comment.

A meeting will be held Monday in the Driscoll Independent School District cafeteria at 410 W. Avenue D. There will be an Open House from 4:30 until 7 p.m. for viewing the exhibits. A formal presentation will begin at 5:30 p.m.

Project personnel will be available during the Open House and following the presentation to answer questions on the project, including questions regarding the right of way acquisition process and relocation assistance. All interested persons are asked to attend and comment on the proposed improvement options.

The project area extends from the interchange of U.S. Highway 77 and Interstate Highway 37 in Corpus Christi to the interchange of U.S. Highway 77 and U.S. Highway 83 in Harlingen, with proposed improvements between Robstown and Combes.

The project area is approximately 127 miles long, crossing through 12 communities and urbanized areas, including Corpus Christi, Robstown, Driscoll, Bishop, Kingsville, Ricardo, Riviera, Sarita, Raymondville, Lyford, Sebastian, and Harlingen, TxDOT officials said.

Parts of the project area have recently been improved to interstate standards, such as from IH 37 to State Highway 44 near Robstown and from Harlingen to Combes. Thus, the proposed construction area is approximately 109.5 miles long within or near US 77 in Nueces, Kleberg, Kenedy and Willacy counties.

Based on public input from the first round of public meetings, TxDOT is considering possible locations for new overpasses, interchanges, and frontage roads. At Driscoll and Riviera, relief routes are being considered.

The relief route options include east, west, and through these communities. These possible relief routes would likely be tolled and would require additional right of way. A limited amount of right of way may also be required in certain other areas, TxDOT officials said.

Although funding is not currently available to construct the proposed improvements, TxDOT is evaluating the proposed project because of the need to improve mobility and safety for traffic traveling on U.S. Highway 77 and for communities along this highway. A potential funding source for the upgrade of U.S. Highway 77 could come from TxDOT's agreement with Zachry American and ACS Infrastructure to develop the Texas portion of the future Interstate 69. The Zachry/ACS team will begin work on a master development plan and master financing plan for I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor, TxDOT officials said.

The developer and TxDOT will focus on using existing highway facilities, such as the southern portion of U.S. Highway 77, wherever possible for planning the I-69 corridor. TxDOT and Zachry/ACS will also develop a specific plan to upgrade U.S. Highway 77 from Brownsville to Corpus Christi to interstate standards, possibly making U.S. Highway 77 an eventual part of I-69/TTC, TxDOT officials said.

The proposed Zachry/ACS master plan would provide for the upgrade of US 77 without tolling that portion of the road, except at the possible relief routes.

TxDOT is responsible for completing the environmental assessment, which is the focus of this project.

The Corpus Christi and Pharr TxDOT Districts have been upgrading portions of US 77 to interstate standards for a number of years as funds became available. In those areas where the facility has not been upgraded to freeway standards, there are no overpasses separating high-speed through traffic from local traffic at intersections.

The lack of overpasses for local traffic crossing the highway and the lack of ramps and frontage roads for traffic entering or leaving U.S. Highway 77 increases the risk of serious accidents and compromise traffic flow on this route, TxDOT officials said.

TxDOT officials said the department will continue working with communities and landowners along US 77 to determine the best possible locations for overpasses, frontage roads, and entrance and exit ramps.

The public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed locations at the upcoming public meetings.

As traffic increases, the need to separate high-speed through traffic from traffic crossing, entering, or exiting the highway becomes increasingly important to ensure traffic flow and safety, TxDOT officials said.

A recent study indicates that traffic within the project area is expected to grow by approximately 75 percent between 2004 and 2024. Population growth and trade are two factors associated with this projected traffic growth.

According to the Texas Water Development Board, population in the Coastal Bend area is expected to grow by 28 percent by the years 2020 and by 58 percent by the year 2050.

Population in the Rio Grande Valley is expected to grow by 60 percent by the year 2020 and by 170 percent by the year 2050. At the present time, the Rio Grande Valley contains the largest population in the United States that is not served by an interstate highway.

In terms of trade, the Ports of Brownsville and Corpus Christi have announced plans to increase their capacity, and there are planned infrastructure improvements in Mexico that will result in increased trade-related truck traffic on U.S. Highway 77.

Truck traffic already represents 20 to 25 percent of the traffic on U.S. Highway 77 within the proposed project area.