377 widening

Drivers take U.S. Highway 377 toward Denton from Argyle. U.S. 377 will be widened to four lanes from Crawford Road/Country Club Road to FM1171.

Denton County officials voted unanimously Tuesday to spend millions of dollars for roadway projects in the southwestern portion of the county.

Commissioner Andy Eads welcomed the Commissioners Court decision on Tuesday in approving to spend big on two roadway projects that will impact people who live in — and pass through — the part of the county he oversees in Precinct 4.

U.S. 377 widening

In a crucial step toward widening a portion of U.S. Highway 377, county commissioners approved $982,275 to be spent from county funds to pay the Texas Department of Transportation, which will use the money in the new year to buy properties from owners along the portion of U.S. 377 and to pay for utilities like power lines to be relocated.

“This was a critical step to get the project constructed,” Eads, whose role will shift from commissioner to Denton County judge in 2019, said on Tuesday. “I’ve been working on this project since I took office.”

The TxDOT-led project will widen a stretch of U.S. 377 from two lanes to four, between Crawford Road/Country Club Road and FM1171. When it’s all finished, the roadway will look less rural — as it does now, with open, grassy drainage ditches without curbs — and more urban — raised medians, curbs and gutters and concrete drainage areas.

“It’s a real-life safety improvement for the people who live along 377,” Eads said

Eads said construction won’t begin for several years. But with the approved money on Tuesday, Eads said TxDOT can begin to acquire properties that are currently in the way of the planned construction.

About $607,275 of the county money will go toward TxDOT acquiring properties. And later, $375,000 will reimburse TxDOT when crews have to move utility equipment. TxDOT is pouring $8.8 million into the $9.8 million project.

Planes crossing

Farther south, a county road near Texas Motor Speedway has presented officials and civil engineers with a blend of taxiing airplanes, loaded dump trucks and passenger vehicles commingling at one tiny intersection in rural Denton County.

Cleveland Gibbs Road runs from FM1171 through the Northwest Regional Airport in Northlake, past businesses and homes leading to a sand and gravel depot that brings in heavy tractor-trailer traffic.

Cleveland Gibbs

A dump truck stops at a small intersection at the Northwest Regional Airport in Northlake on Tuesday. The intersection of Cleveland Gibbs Road and an airplane taxiway is often met with airplane, tractor-trailer and passenger vehicle traffic.

Drew Corn, the town administrator for Northlake, which is leading the project, said congestion in the area creates confusion for many drivers passing through. He said he once heard a story of a woman’s minivan being grazed by a landing airplane’s tires because she was traveling one of the roads near Cleveland Gibbs crosses the airport’s runway. He said the airport is mostly used by pilots flying for recreation.

On Tuesday, commissioners voted to spend $2.9 million of county funds to enable the town of Northlake to shut down the road and re-route it as part of Northlake’s long-term development plan. The project, which is expected to be completed in a year and a half, will make Cleveland Gibbs a town road instead of a county road, officials said.

The road will eventually be turned into four lanes.

“Cleveland-Gibbs is a major arterial [road] that runs parallel to Interstate 35W,” said Ben McGahey, a director for Halff Associates working with town officials on its master planning. “It gives people an alternate route if there’s problems on 35W.”

In other action

County officials rejected a bid from one of the nation’s largest jail video-visitation companies after the Denton County Sheriff’s Office decided to change some of the requirements for the service.

Earlier this year, county officials announced it was accepting bids for video-visitation companies that wanted to sell this service to the county jail as the county’s standing contract was set to expire at the end of October. The county received only one bid, from Securus Technologies, the current provider.

Beth Fleming, the director of purchasing for Denton County, said the sheriff’s office decided against allowing the vendor to sell inmates entertainment options on their mobile tablets, which inmates can carry with them while in the Denton County Jail. So officials decided to throw out the bid and issue a new advertisement, directed at potential vendors, with the sheriff’s updated preferences.

Securus Technologies, based in Dallas, has dispensed the Denton County Jail its video-visitation abilities since 2014. The county’s current contract with Securus will be extended each month until the county contracts with a new vendor, officials said Tuesday.

DALTON LAFERNEY can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @daltonlaferney.

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