Area officials received an update Wednesday on the planning phase of a 20-year plan for improvements to the U.S. Highway 75 corridor. Officials with the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Technical Advisory Committee spoke with IEA, the consultants working on the project, about the grading matrix that will be used to rate and rank potential improvements to the highway.

“I am very pleased and think we have accomplished a lot here today,” new SDMPO Director Clay Barnett said Wednesday during his first meeting in the position. “This will be the biggest project on U.S. 75 since it was originally built.”

The discussion on the grading criteria followed a meeting in September where area representatives criticized and voiced concerns on how growth models were represented in the planned improvements. These criticisms also included how congestion and other roadway issues were rated currently.

“What we want to do is go through each of these, line by line, to make sure we are in line before moving forward,” IEA Consultant Phillip Lujan said.

Lujan said proposed projects would be rated on a scale of 0-100 with higher scores representing higher priority and needed improvements. Under the matrix, nearly a third of all points would be based on safety concerns. These concerns would include crash data and fatalities from 2010 through June of this year, and a study of design deficiencies based on current standards.

Another major factor, making up nearly 24 percent of the scoring weight, was maintenance and system efficiency. Among the criteria for this category’s scoring are pavement condition ratings, bridge condition, construction difficulty and interchange configuration. IEA Vice President Larry Redden said the construction difficulty criteria was designed to give priority to projects that would be easier to implement and wouldn’t create large traffic backups. The majority of these projects would be smaller-scale improvements, that could be accomplished as funding is available.

This drew some concern from the TAC members who felt that it artificially gave preference and importance to the smaller projects.

“I think everyone in here will agree that anytime you are building something there will be traffic build up,” Barnett said, adding that he felt it shouldn’t be weighed as heavily as other matters related to maintenance or moved to a separate category related to economic vitality.

Barnett mirrored the comments on weighting for a fifth item in maintenance related to project consistency with planned development.

Similar concerns regarding weighting were brought up in discussions of congestion and freight reliability. Members of the TAC asked whether a category for bridge modifications could be ignored for projects that don’t involve bridgework. By rating these projects as a zero, officials argued it would give preference to larger projects that do require bridge modification.

Other concerns voiced by the TAC included criteria listed for environmental sustainability. Under this category, an item was listed regarding the impact a project would have on area businesses.

“That’s really fuzzy,” Barnett said. “Isn’t that more related to economic vitality?”

Denison City Manager Jud Rex said he felt the category better related to the impact on the natural environment, but felt it was a difficult topic to evaluate. He said the need for right-of-way acquisition and the use of additional land for a project could be one qualifier. Redden added that access to and impact on minority populations and the impact to historic buildings could also qualify.

At the end of the meeting, Barnett said he was happy with the progress that has been made thus far, but admitted the matrix is not a flawless system. He added that regardless of how these projects are ranked, the TAC will continue to look at the projects manually and decide which are in the best interest of the community.