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Port Neches residents concerned about traffic build-up; want voices heard

PORT NECHES — A group of Port Neches residents who live near the riverfront are delighted at the development in their city.

Neches River Wheelhouse has been going strong since 2014 when it opened. The city recently added cemented walking paths and decorative lighting along the riverfront.

City leaders have approved a site plan and construction documents for Iguana Joe’s, a Letter of Intent was approved in April with Obana Reality Holding and Rippeon Properties LTD for a new business that will serve hors d’oeuvre’s and alcoholic beverages and a food mall is also slated for a spot along the river.

Just down the block from the restaurants will be a new subdivision filled with 99 high-end homes.

Yet, there is a common concern among some residents in the area flanking the development – traffic.

Cheryl Harper lives on Santee Street, a stone’s throw from the riverfront development. Only a few homes dot the street, which curves around, to Jackson Avenue and further to the busy Llano Street.

Worried about the volume of traffic and speeders heading to the riverfront, she put up her own money and bought 50 bright yellow yard signs with the wording “Slow, children at play” that features silhouettes of children.

The 50 signs are lined around the neighborhood on Llano and on Lee Avenue near Neches River Wheelhouse.

Harper said one of the owners of the restaurant bought some of the signs and placed them in the grass along the restaurant’s property.

While the city hopes visitors to the Wheelhouse and up-and-coming riverfront restaurants use Merriman Street as the main route to the river, there are motorists who opt for cutting down Llano.

“We would like to see the speed limit enforced,” Harper said.

The Port Neches woman alluded to a time when, in Bridge City, many motorists had the same concern — if you speed in Bridge City you will get a ticket. Just the fear of knowing the speed limit was being enforced with the threat of a ticket was enough to keep drivers within the limit. Port Neches was once the same, she said.

The speeding, she said, impacts a lot of homes. There are 50 homes on Llano from Port Neches Avenue to Lee.

“If you take into consideration that there are five streets including Llano and Block plus Dallas, Marion and Montgomery, that could multiply the number of homes for a total of 250 effected homes,” she said. “That is a lot of families that will be subjected to the speeding.”

A look at a map shows one must travel down the above-mentioned residential streets to get to Lee.

“The city wants to encourage travel on Merriman but if you’re coming from Beaumont to the Wheelhouse, it’s not unusual to go down Llano,” she said.

She’s correct.

One of the options for a Google map direction from Lamar University in Beaumont takes a driver down Texas 366 to Magnolia Avenue to Port Neches Avenue to Llano Street to Lee Avenue.

“We (concerned neighbors) want to work with the city any way we can,” Harper said.

A livability study would suffice in gauging the traffic issue, she, and other residents there believe.

A street signs at Llano Street and Grigsby Avenue. (Mary Meaux/The News)

Charlie Bales is a resident of Llano Street who is concerned about the traffic.

Speed limits do little to control speed, he said.

“If they blow past 30 they’ll blow past 20,” Bales said. “I am all for the development but all of this (traffic study) should have been done before the Wheelhouse was built.”

In addition to the increase in the volume of traffic, there is even more to come when Woodcrest Elementary is rebuilt and several hundred additional students added to the campus.

Bales is aware of the traffic flow down Llano as opposed to Merriman as a route to the river.

“We don’t even play in our front yard because there is so much traffic,” he said. “We watched a car run into the ditch (on Llano) and back out. He was going to the Wheelhouse. I don’t know if he was already drunk or not. It was broad daylight.”

Bales isn’t angry at the restaurant or the city but wants his concerns heard.

He noted a recent story where the mayor of the city played a recording of noise from nearby Air Liquide. He said go and sit outside his home at 9 p.m. on a Saturday and you will be able to hear music and loud noises.

“Me personally, I can overlook that, that’s the growing pains of development,” Bales said.

He said he’s not trying to be confrontational but just wants city leaders to know the concerns.

Larry Reynolds is also a Llano Street resident concerned about traffic. The first six or so months after the Wheelhouse opened, traffic wasn’t an issue. Then it began to build up, he said.

Since then he hasn’t noticed much help from police shooting radar, writing tickets or making their presence known.

Police Chief Paul Lemoine spoke to the city council in May regarding its own traffic study.

The study took place from April 27 to May 19 at different times of the day on Llano, Lee and Port Neches Avenue. The study was done in a way where motorists did not see the radar or equipment, he said.

Lemoine has spoke before of the 85th percentile, which is the speed at or which 85 percent of motorists consider a safe, comfortable speed. The 85th percentile of drivers in the affected areas traveled between 25 to 27 mph, according to recent statistics.

There was a maximum speed clocked in at 44 mph between April 30 and May 3 in the 700 block of Llano listed under approaching traffic, and a 54 mph for the same time period and location as receding traffic.

Reynolds worries about how the additional traffic will impact the quality of life for those in the area.

“There should’ve been a residential impact study to take into account the livability, the impact on daily routines,” Reynolds said.

In the past year he has seen three vehicles in ditches and one vehicle hit a house.

Reynolds feels the Wheelhouse feeds police and the police, in turn, may be hesitant to issue tickets to the patrons of that business.

“I don’t care how much alcohol and food they sell. Take care of the neighborhood that’s been affected. The livability that’s been affected. We can’t mow our ditch without almost getting plowed over,” he said.

Reynolds also echoed Bales’ comments about the noise from the river.

“As much as the mayor is concerned about Air Liquide bothering him in his backyard so am I and the citizens of the neighborhood are concerned about the noise from Air Liquide and loud music from the bands (at the restaurant),” he said.

The City of Port Neches is in talks with TEDSI Infrastructure Group out of Houston for a traffic study that will shed light on possible areas of concern for now and the future.