— By JUDY SHERIDAN
A brief ceremony to mark the opening of the second phase of the much anticipated Ric Williamson Memorial Highway — long known as the Western Loop — drew a small crowd of county and city officials, business leaders, TxDOT representatives and others to the loop’s intersection with U.S. Highway 180 on a bright and sunny Wednesday afternoon.
Mary Ann Williamson and her daughter, Melissa Meyer, cut the ribbon to officially open the road. Speakers included Williamson, Weatherford City Manager Jerry Blaisdell and Judge Mark Riley.
“I’m honored to be included with the second phase, just as I was with the first,” Williamson said, noting the completion of the highway’s initial phase — from Highway 51 North to FM 920 — in January of 2012. “I’m very proud and so appreciative of the city and the county and their joint effort getting this off the ground so far.”
Blaisdell gave the county credit for making the road a reality.
“The county stepped up, saw the need and made it happen,” he said. “We owe them a debt of gratitude.”
Riley remembered the late Ric Williamson, saying he “had what it took to stand up and do what is right,” regardless of whether an idea was popular. He thanked all the county’s partners, naming Maribel Chavez, district engineer for the Fort Worth District of TxDOT.
“In 14 or 15 months, we’ll be standing at I-20 opening up that bridge,” he said, referencing the end point of the 5.2-mile $40 million project. “We’re at the half-way point today ... and they told us we couldn’t do it in five years.”
Ric Williamson, of Weatherford, was a former chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission and secured the 2004 TxDOT feasibility evaluation that led to the road’s construction.
He was first elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1984, serving from 1985 to 1999.
Texas Monthly magazine ranked him among the “Ten Best Legislators” in the state in 1989 and 1991, and the Dallas Morning News named him the “Best of the 75th Legislative Session” in 1997.
He died of a heart attack in December of 2007 at the age of 55.
Meyer, Williamson’s daughter, said the road — expected to reroute downtown truck traffic, relieve overall traffic congestion and spur economic development along its path opens a “brave new world” for Parker County.
“It’s good we can be a county of growth and innovation,” she said, “and not just treading water.”
Mary Ann said Williamson would not have wanted anything named after him.
“That’s not what he was about,” she said, “but it’s a nice memorial for his children and grandchildren, and it will help them better understand his impact on transportation.
“We appreciate the thoughtfulness of the county and city.”
The second phase of the RWMH, which began at FM 920, was actually completed in August, stopping just short of U.S. Highway 180, but commissioners voted to keep it closed until TxDOT finished the interchange with US. 180, which happened this month.
The court had planned to open the new highway all the way to Ranger Highway, but commissioners voted to rescind an earlier motion to do so Monday when Riley told them it would take another 35 to 40 days to reach that point.
Wednesday, Riley said the construction to Ranger Highway could take up to 60 more days.