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Wooden bridges make Ferris wonder: ‘How safe are our kids’

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RUSTY WELLER
Ellis County Press
FERRIS - Tree-topped Batchler Road twists right, then hard left just as a one-lane wooden bridge suddenly looms. Even on a good day it's not easy to see oncoming traffic vying to cross the busy bridge.

So far, so good for Ferris school buses: No accidents yet on Batchler or Palmyra Road one-lane wooden bridges. But numerous close calls are causing long-patient school officials and parents to ask, 'How safe are our children?'

Complaints to Precinct 1 Commissioner Hallie Robinson haven't resulted in a new bridge. No money, Robinson claims. But plenty appears available, say some who've looked at the books.

Already spent, replies Robinson, who believes the whole issue may be made moot next year by a new state bridge rehabilitation program.

Meanwhile, the patience of some Ferris residents wears thin. 'The commissioners have $16 million for their new offices, but not enough to build a little bridge for our kids,' one resident remarked.

Ferris officials reportedly are feeling increasingly frustrated.

'The wooden bridge on Batchler Rd. … has been the site of several close calls this past school year,' FISD Transportation Director Steve Nalley wrote in a July 18 letter to Robinson. 'The traffic on this road has steadily increased and made this bridge an unsafe hazard.'

Nalley also warned Robinson of Palmya Road's one-lane wooden bridge 'that could cause problems in the future with additional home sites.' And FISD's transportation director asked for work on McKnight Road to 'make our buses safer with fewer turnarounds.'

In response, Robinson emphasized his road rebuilding program in a July 19 letter to Nalley.

'When I took office Jan. 1, 1997, the overwhelming cry from the people of Pct. 1 was to rebuild the roads, most of which were in very poor condition,' Robinson said in a letter. 'At the end of this year, we will have rebuilt approximately 150 miles of the 188 miles in Pct. 1.

'Needless to say, this massive undertaking has stretched our resources to the limit, both manpower and money,' the commissioner wrote to the FISD transportation director. 'I will tell you, however, that if I am re-elected, I do plan to concentrate more on bridges the next four years.'

Robinson went on to mention the bridge program, 'which would pay most of the cost.' After Monday's Commissioners Court meeting in Waxahachie, Robinson told the Ellis County Press about the state's plan to improve 7,200 below-standard bridges.

With a target number of 300, the Texas Department of Transportation would waive the 10 percent local match for a bridge project. In return, local officials must commit to roll the savings into improvements to other deficient bridges in the area.

Currently, local governments fund 10 percent of a project. The state picks up 10 percent, and the federal government foots the other 80 percent.

Whether bridges in Ferris ISD or elsewhere in Ellis County would qualify among the targeted 300 remains to be seen. It also isn't known how long for bridge work to begin.

Robinson added a PS to his letter, saying, 'For your peace of mind, all of the bridges in the county are inspected each year by the state and are deemed safe for the weight limits posted.'

Meanwhile another winter looms Ferris students on school buses that must negotiate traffic to cross frosty or icy wooden bridges on dark or foggy mornings.

'I am concerned about the safety of the people of Pct. 1, especially our children, so school bus routes will have priority,' Robinson wrote. 'However, the request about McKnight Road is one that will require a great deal of labor and money, because it will have to be built from the ground up.'

Robinson told Nalley many other roads must come first so he is not able to say when or if work on McKnight might be possible.

'This is not to say that McKnight is not important, but I have many other roads that are already in use and are very necessary to the people who live on them,' Robinson wrote. 'These roads must come first when allocating the limited amount of money available to maintain roads, and this amount of money, it appears, will likely become less in the future. For these reasons, I am sorry, but I cannot give you a commitment on when or if we will be able to build McKnight Rd. from India Rd. to Mohundro Rd.'

Some critics point to August's balance sheets that show Precinct 1 apparently has $270,444.14 left in its road and bridge fund and $293,903.02 in its FM account.

Not so, Robinson told the Press. The money, much of which goes to salaries the rest of the year, already is officially earmarked and, in effect, spent. He said available funds are $15,000 in the road and bridge fund and $50,000 in the FM account.

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