By JUDY SHERIDAN | Lone Star News Group
WEATHERFORD – A ribbon-cutting on a bright, beautiful Tuesday morning — attended by more than 135 people — marked the near-finish of the Ric Williamson Memorial Highway, the centerpiece and largest project of the $80 million Parker County Transportation Bond approved by voters in November of 2008.
The mood was jubilant as local and state officials gathered to celebrate under a white tent erected near the new interchange with Interstate Highway 20, the fifth and final phase of the approximately $40 million RWMH project, which got underway in April of 2011.
The event wrapped up in style — with Parker County Judge Mark Riley, Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler and county commissioners driving across the new bridge in antique and classic cars, escorting members of Williamson’s family.
A 5.6-mile partial loop around Weatherford’s west side, the RWMH will connect I-20 to FM Road 51, north of the city, and divert truck traffic from Weatherford’s downtown area, relieving traffic congestion and improving air quality.
For people traveling east from Mineral Wells, it means new access to the interstate without having to use South Bowie Drive or going through Weatherford.
Even as officials celebrated the completion of the new roadway, crews from Ed Bell Construction were hard at work on the interchange, which should be done in a couple weeks, according to Chris Bosco, of Freese and Nichols.
Striping of the roadway, signage and curing of the concrete railing, as well as completion of the barrier railings along the entrance and exit ramps, are the final items that remain, county officials said.
Riley said weather issues were at fault for the delay.
“There’s a little glitch in our giddy up,” he told the crowd. “Originally, everything was going to be where the bridge would be open sometime this afternoon: thankfully we’ve had rain — and some freezing temperatures — so we’re going to be a few more days before the bridge is open to the public.”
Weatherford Mayor Dennis Hooks, John Cordary, P.E., of TxDOT, Bob Pence, president and CEO of Freese and Nichols, Clarin Gniffke, of Rep. Kay Granger’s office, Rep. Phil King and Mary Ann Williamson spoke, offering their thanks and congratulations to the county and its partnering cities and agencies.
Pence advised the Williamson family’s children — who received yellow hard hats from the county emblazoned with, “Pop’s Highway” — to continue the work that their grandfather, a former chairman of the Texas Highway Commission, initiated.
“The work doesn’t stop when we cut the ribbon,” he admonished.
“All over Parker County there’s work to be done to make roadways safe, to accommodate the growing population and to link this highway to the eastern part of the county, so we’re leaving plenty for you to do in the future.”
Gniffke read a statement from Granger, which said, “The Parker County Transportation Bond Program has been successful because of the level of support and cooperation that the county has built with local, regional, state and federal elected officials. I applaud Parker County for their planning and implementation of projects that support growth, safety and a greater quality of life for Parker County residents.”
King called the road a fitting namesake for Williamson, who took risks, thought outside the box, shook things up and didn’t mind making people a little angry.
“This road fits him well because it certainly was a bit of a risk,” he said. “It wasn’t your typical way to do a project of this nature, it shook up things a little bit to get it done, and it also made a few people a little mad as it went through the process.”
When King thanked Parker County for not using state dollars, Riley laughed and chided him to read the budget a little better.
“Actually the state has some participation with pass-through — on the bridge,” he said. “Thanks to TxDOT and that process, the City of Weatherford has pass-through. The benefit of that is as we begin to get a return back on the investment on the bridge, we’ll be able to take that money and apply it for transportation.
”Mary Ann Williamson called the RWMH an “outstanding example of a multi-jurisdictional solution to a transportation problem.”
“I think our community has set an excellent example for the rest of the state,” she said.
Members of the Williamson family participating in the ribbon cutting and bridge crossing were Mary Ann Williamson and family, Randy and Melissa Meyer and family, Katherine Strange and family, Blake and Sara Teegarden and family, Steve and Jessica Williamson and Julie Gilliland.