Friday, December 2, 2022

Building Bridges to the Future

Poet Robert Frost’s road, “less traveled,” would not be the one needing early repair due to heavy trucks rumbling along in the Barnett Shale region. 

Denton County Precinct 4 Commissioner Andy Eads is seeing that the roads getting inordinately heavy wear and tear are being refurbished. 

Eads, a Flower Mound resident who grew up in Lewisville and attended the University of North Texas, is inherently familiar with these roads.  Representing a large swath of western Denton County – from Flower Mound and Copper Canyon west to the Wise County line and north past Krum – the 38-year-old father of three is seeking his second term as Precinct 4 Commissioner.

He said that he is proud of what’s taken place with the ongoing transportation projects in his corner of the county.  “Much of the past three years we have focused on roads and mobility,” Eads points out.  “Completing the FM 407 curve in Lantana and replacing county bridges, and the passage of the 2008 countywide bond election have been huge accomplishments.”

Did the much publicized collapse of the bridge in Minnesota lead to higher scrutiny?

“Actually, TxDOT inspects bridges every year.  They look at the state road bridges – such as I-35 and those on 1171 and 407 in the even-numbered years.  The odd years, they inspect the “off system” bridges, belonging to the cities and counties.

“Many of the bridges actually failed inspection in 2007.  The Barnett Shale gas well traffic has really accelerated their deterioration.  We tried to pass a state law that would allow Denton County to have the same legal authority as municipalities have in order to calculate the amount of damage to the roads and collect an appropriate fee to repair them once a well has been drilled.

“In November of 2008, we got the biggest bond election approval of all time, $495 million, mostly for road improvements.  Precinct 4 gets a lot of it, as so much of the county’s growth is here, on the west side.  A portion of the bonds, around $104 million, were issued last May.

“We’ve already completed two projects in Bartonville and the projects in Double Oak and Copper Canyon are currently in design. The Robson Ranch Road widening is halfway complete.”

Along with the roads, air quality associated with gas drilling is now a concern for many.

“I’ve been very active with respect to the Barnett Shale.  Copper Canyon Mayor Sue Tejml and I were part of group working to design “best practices procedures”.  We worked with the gas industry for several months to work things out so that the cities will have a role in deciding exactly where pipelines will go.  This should have a long term positive impact.  We’re monitoring the air quality issue and keeping the dialog open between residents and the drillers.  The Barnett Shale comes with both blessings and negative impacts.”

One hotspot in the Barnett Shale is the town of DISH and its leader, Mayor Calvin Tillman.  Tillman said that Eads has been a great partner as the town works through its gas drilling issues.

“Andy will always pick up the phone if I call, and will call me periodically to see how things are going, and also see if there is anything I need from him,” said Tillman.  “He likely does this with all of the mayors, but he makes you feel as though what is important to us, even in the small town of DISH, is important to him.”

Fiscal responsibility is a top priority, especially these days, according to Eads.

“We’re trying to get as much of the roadwork done now, in a down construction market while bids are expected to come in lower.  When it comes to gas tax revenues, we’re what’s called a “donor” state.  Texas donates more tax money up to Washington than they send back to us.  Despite this, I’m proud that we’ve maintained one of the lowest tax rates amongst the top 15 counties, while Denton County government continues to have the lowest employee/citizen ratio.”

Eads says that during his tenure, they’ve made a couple of other significant improvements to roads that may not be the heaviest traveled, but make the area a better place to traverse by car. 

“Early on, we were able to modify a county policy that now allows us to upgrade gravel roads to a paved surface. To help fund this, I created a “gravel-to-asphalt initiative” in the 2008 bond election.  Early on in my term, we determined that it may be cheaper to pave a road than when you calculate continually maintaining a gravel road with the labor, fuel and material expense. This past July, the Commissioner’s Court passed a policy outlining a process whereby the county could accept a road into their maintenance system that was dedicated to the public but not yet accepted for maintenance.”

Besides the roads, what’s up ahead for residents once they actually get out of their cars?

“This summer, we’ll be opening a new Denton County Health Department building in the city of Denton, which will also house Child Protective Services. 

“A unique project unfolded while we were developing the area around the FM 2499 extension in Highland Village.  ‘Progress’ forced out a horse trailer parking lot.  We partnered with Texas Parks and Wildlife, worked out an agreement with Brazos Electric and used state funds to build a new horse trailer parking lot on U.S. Army Corp of Engineers property on Old Alton Road, south of the Old Alton Bridge Park.  We actually were able to get federal, state, and county people together on this one,” Eads laughs.

Eads said that he looks forward to serving the residents of Precinct 4 for another four-year term, and encourages them to contact him with any questions or concerns at (940) 349-2801.

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