For a town of only about 7,000 people, getting through downtown Cleveland hasn’t been so easy. Former Liberty County Judge Lloyd Kirkham watched the heavy traffic backups for years along State Highway 105.
“Sometimes it would take 15 to 20 minutes from city limits to city limits in Cleveland. And it was just quite an ordeal for the people that lived in town, trying to get around to the post office, grocery shopping.”
Kirkham says a lot of those delays were created by big rigs that were passing through Cleveland on their way from Beaumont to Conroe. What worried him was what was inside those trucks.
“We had big trucks that were coming through town, and I worked for a chemical plant and I knew what they were hauling. And some of the explosives and very toxic chemicals were coming across right down through the main street of Cleveland.”
And for the businesses of downtown Cleveland, the heavy traffic caused lots of problems. For one, the big trucks broke the curbs. There were major backups at railroads crossings, along with a lack of parking spaces. Marc Shepherd is with TxDOT in Beaumont.
“You have so much congestion in terms of truck traffic that people don’t want to go to the downtown area because of what’s taking place. So they may have a tendency to go somewhere else, to either go shopping or do what other business they want to go do.”
But those traffic hassles are expected to be a thing of the past, now that TxDOT has opened the $42 million “Cleveland Loop.” It’s a five-mile roadway that steers traffic away from downtown. Shepherd says the Cleveland Loop allows traffic to exit the highway on the east side of town, and re-enter to the west.
“So what this new loop is going to do is help alleviate some of that truck traffic traveling east-west on 105, take away that truck traffic from the downtown area, and allow the downtown area to start revitalizing.”
Those revitalization plans have been in the works for several years. Cleveland Mayor Jill Kirkonis says they can now close one of downtown’s railroad crossings to create space for more parking. The city’s Economic Development Corporation is also looking at beautification efforts. That includes trees and benches.
“Anytime something is more visually appealing, it obviously attracts more patrons, and that’s what we’re after.”
TxDOT says the Cleveland Loop was completed five months ahead of schedule, in part because of last year’s lack of rain.