By JUDY SHERIDAN
The barricades stop southbound traffic on the Ric Williamson Memorial Highway at Ranger Highway. But the pavement continues, stopping just short of Interstate 20.
It was there that local government, business and project officials, along with invited guests, on Tuesday celebrated the beginning of construction of the fifth and final phase of the western loop, which accounted for half of the $80 million transportation bond voters approved in 2008. Speeches were made and ground was broken for the $40 million highway’s final 1.4 miles and new diamond interchange with I-20, as those attending could see and hear interstate traffic passing nearby.
The phase is also the last bond project to get under way. It was originally scheduled to be finished in 2013, but is now scheduled for completion in the summer of 2014.
Melissa Williamson Meyer, Ric Williamson’s daughter, introduced her husband, Randy, and son, Jack, and thanked county officials for including her family in every milestone event.
“We can see I-20. This is awesome,” Meyer told the cheering crowd. “We all know how fast this has happened in the world of transportation and politics.
“I am thankful to God for giving my father an innovating desire which trickled out to our county, which is fantastic. I’m looking forward to the last and biggest step.”
John Cordary, area engineer for TxDOT, offered his congratulations. He said Fort Worth District Engineer Maribel Chavez uses the relationships developed while working in Parker County as a role model for other communities.
“Hats off to you,” Weatherford Mayor Dennis Hooks said. “Thank you for partnering with the City of Weatherford. We’re one step closer to getting traffic off the square. What you’ve gotten done so far has exceeded my expectations.”
County Judge Mark Riley touted the new highway’s expected improvements to mobility, air quality and economic development and credited Williamson with getting the ball rolling for the project in 2004.
After sharing how the process of building the highway has introduced him to dealing with state and federal agencies, the judge appeared to reference an attempt by the Federal Highway Administration to claim review authority over much of the road using the National Environmental Protection Act, an attempt Riley was able to limit.
“I have one political statement,” he told the crowd. “The process from Washington to Austin has to change. It’s not a matter of saying we just don’t like regulations; it’s a matter of saving the taxpayers of this country billions and billions of dollars.
“We can do it without harming the water. We can do it without harming nature. But when the bureaucrats control the process that we have to work through, that is wrong ...
“I think it’s time that everybody be sensitive to that process.”
Construction of the first phase of the RWMH, from State Highway 51 to FM 920, began in January of 2011, and the road was officially opened a year later. The loop is now open to traffic from SH 51 south to Ranger Highway.
The highway is named after a late former chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission and 14-year member of the Texas House of Representatives.