Franklin extended stay hotel rooms & RV spots still available.

1300 Cypress St., Hearne, TX 77859

979.820.0066

Robertson County, tx6, US79, i-14, osr economic development

PLANNING AHEAD: PREPARING TODAY FOR TOMORROW

I-14 OPPORTUNITIES & CHALLENGES


It’s Not A Bypass - It’s An Interstate


TxDOT is not yet publicly commenting on its grand plans.  They have done a feasibility study.  TxDOT's Project Tracker identifies isolated components along with budgeted dollar figures.  Nobody has a crystal ball that they can look into to see the future. But, to me, some pretty obvious I-14 “context clues” are starting to emerge should you look for them.  Here is my best educated guess as to what is happening.


Many communities would give their eye teeth to be on or near an interstate highway. While lots of local businesses obviously wince at the prospect of a bypass around their community, I-14 won’t be a bypass in the traditional sense (where an already existing highway loops-around a community). A totally new interstate highway (I-14) with lots of traffic is likely in Robertson County’s future!


The real question concerning I-14 is not “if?”, but “when?”  Don’t panic just yet. It will still be decades before I-14 makes it to our area. Rest assured, however, that it is coming and we need to be as prepared as possible in two regards, to:


• Reap some benefits from its presence at our doorstep; &

• Minimize the negatives.


Around the turn of the century, new towns started springing-up along railroad corridors. Indeed, promising established towns (like Sterling, Port Sullivan, and Wheelock) deteriorated when railroads passed them by. After WWII, America’s love for the iron horse waned. Automobiles increased mobility and forced American reorganization away from rail to an emerging highway system. Farm-to-market roads, state, federal, and interstate highways linked communities. Many of these became main streets in countless towns. Small towns that were bypassed by either the railroads or the highways withered and died. New towns flourished along their routes. 


In June 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed  into law the Interstate Highway Act.  This led to the creation of America’s current highway system. In the intervening years, interstates linked far-flung parts of the country with standardized highways. 


From traffic planners’ perspectives, bypasses around small towns are highly beneficial to thru-traffic, particularly trucks. For the greater public good, they facilitate the free, unimpeded flow of interstate commerce. This is particularly true for vehicles that are simply travelling through and have no intention of stopping. For local residents, it means quicker travel times to/from destinations along a route that connects with other interstates. These can easily get us where we’re going without small town traffic delays.


Fast forward some 60 years, a new I-14 is proposed to come through our area. I-14’s route begins in West Texas and generally runs along US190. It will extend from the Ft. Hood area through Copperas Cove, Killeen, Harker Heights, Belton, Temple, Cameron, Milano, Gause, to the southwest of Hearne, Bryan/College Station, I-45, Madisonville, Huntsville, Livingston, Woodville, and Jasper before crossing into Louisiana at the Sabine River near Fort Polk.


The first 25-mile, officially-designated segment of I-14 now stretches west from I-35 in Belton to the eastern edge of Copperas Cove. With its own I-14 congressional caucus, this future interstate highway route is part of the 2015 congressionally-designated Central Texas Corridor. This proposed corridor is supported by many community leaders (members of Congress, state legislators, mayors, county judges, county supervisors, educators, aldermen, city staffers, and economic development officials) from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. It even has own coalition - the I-14 “Forts to Ports” Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Initiative, 14th Amendment Corridor.


Other than paving and highway expansion improvements, major long-term local highway components that have been proposed in our region include bypasses or relief routes around Madisonville, Hearne, and Cameron.


In the next ten years, a new, almost four-mile long, “non-freeway facility loop” is slated for construction around Madisonville at I-14’s connection with I-45. Then, most of US190 from Madisonville to the Brazos County line will be turned into a four-lane divided highway. The chances are good that this stretch of highway will be the next officially designated I-14 segment.


Closer to home, a new Little Brazos River Bridge and four improved lanes heading west out of Hearne near GATX on US79 are in the offing.  Construction on these will start in the next year and a half.  They will extend past FM50 to Hearne’s west and stop before Valley Junction.  Beginning this year, turn lanes will be installed on TX6/US190  from OSR into Hearne. 


It has long been rumored that, if Hearne ever gets a bypass, it would likely begin near FM50 somewhere between Valley Junction and the Little Brazos River. Planned near-term improvements would provide easy access to Hearne from the FM50/Valley Junction area. Should I-14 ever be built, it will likely head southeast from FM50/US79 to connect with TX6 to the south of Hearne. No mention of a precise route or a northeast bypass route is being made.


In Hearne’s case, the terms “relief route” and “bypass” are misnomers. 

Although it is called a relief route in TxDOT US190 planning documents, Hearne, in reality, would become two off-ramps along a new interstate highway. One would be near FM50; another at TX6 south of Hearne. Although altered, TX6 and US79 would likely remain somewhat intact. US79 and I-14 would share the route from Milano to Hearne; TX6 and I-14 would share the route from Hearne to BCS.


A September 2001, University of Texas, 126-page study entitled “Economic Impacts of Highway Relief Routes On Small- and Mid-size Communities” summed it up this way:


“If the greatest fear is the decline of the downtown, the greatest hope of communities facing the construction of a relief route is that it will open-up a new corridor of development and attract new businesses to the community.”


Relief routes siphon most truck and passenger vehicle traffic away from a downtown area, expediting traffic around a central business district (CBD). They reduce downtown traffic volumes, improve safety, remove noisy 18-wheelers, remove vehicle exhaust pollution, and create a far less hectic downtown environment. In Hearne’s case, this would NOT just affect downtown. It would include several-mile stretches of offices and retail along TX6, US79, & US190. These are already becoming increasingly clogged with all sorts of traffic.


Relief routes reduce income-earning potential for owners and operators of many CBD restaurants, bars, hotels, RV parks, convenience stores, oil & lube shops, tire sales & repair businesses, gas stations, grocery stores, liquor stores, truck stops, mechanic & body shops, new & used vehicle, trailer, & recreational vehicle sales lots, pre-fab building sales lots, and customers of other pass-by, traffic-dependent businesses. 


Other downtown businesses, however, like feed & hardware stores, realtors, washaterias, insurance agencies, banks, barber shops & hair styling studios, newspapers, investment firms, attorneys, dentists, kidney dialysis clinics, health clinics, pharmacies, etc. rely primarily on local traffic. These wouldn’t feel the pinch of a bypass as much as businesses that more heavily rely on pass-by traffic.


Relief routes bring increased, but diverted, highway traffic through an area. They plow paths through previously inaccessible rural areas, creating new places for businesses to operate. These high visibility properties on interstate highway rights-of-ways provide new marketing opportunities that capitalize on vastly increased volumes of traffic. 


For example, big, highway-accessible parcels may not be available inside a city. With new land opened-up nearby, a manufacturing plant might locate there to easily ship supplies and finished goods via the interstate. Alternatively, while a Buccee’s, Whataburger, or other businesses might NOT locate in town, they might build nearby to access TX6, US79, US190, east and west I-14 traffic. 


The stretch of highway between Hearne and Bryan will likely fill-in with businesses as I-14 traffic increases. After all, we are part of the College Station/Bryan Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is comprised of Brazos, Burleson, & Robertson Counties. This is due to close proximity and extent to which local residents are intertwined with BCS. Indeed, lots of Robertson County residents have jobs in, dine out, shop, buy personal & business vehicles, visit health care professionals, go to sporting events, go to movies, etc. in neighboring Brazos County.


An adjoining municipality to a proposed interstate might be concerned about a diverse set of lost revenues. Counties, school districts, and emergency services districts, however, would still collect ad valorem property taxes whether inside a city limit or not. Rather than agricultural use, appraised values would likely increase for properties adjacent to I-14.


If new businesses operate outside of a city limits, they would NOT have to pay city sales, hotel/motel, property, or liquor taxes. City-owned electricity, water, and sewer revenues would be lost. If downtown businesses closed or scaled back, downtown jobs would be lost. New jobs, however, might be created on the outskirts of town. An already declining and struggling CBD might face increased challenges and more empty buildings. 


In an annexed area, drainage and new roadway infrastructure might be additional city expenses around a strip mall, new businesses, or new housing subdivisions. Should a town decide to annex to capture I-14’s new highway traffic, major, multi-million-dollar, infrastructure costs would also need to be incurred for extension of electrical, water, and sewer lines. 


That is, IF the city can even provide these services. New areas might be in another company’s service territory. After all, Entergy provides electricity to GATX and the old Crane Plumbing facility. Therefore, FM50 towards Mumford and TX6 south of the Hearne city limits are both in Entergy’s service territory. So, the City of Hearne could NOT build lines and provide or charge for electricity. The loss of electricity revenues might easily sour the city’s annexation enthusiasm.


Ever since the acquisition years ago of Humble Water Supply, the City of Hearne services TX6 South’s water. So, Hearne could provide water there. The route towards Mumford, however, is serviced by Robertson County Water Supply. So, there would be no source of city water revenues there. The city could run sewer lines and charge for these services.


The conditions of properties near the bypass are another concern. Are they flat, well-drained, easily accessible, and large enough for warehouse, factory, retail facilities, or new housing subdivisions? Conversely, are properties in the flood plane?  Are they uneven or full of gravel pits? The non-railroad half of TX6 South might be more conducive to major new business expansions around Hearne.


Far from reaping a windfall, the city’s options for mitigating the economic damage of a bypass may be more limited than what one might expect. If a city does not opt for high-dollar annexation with attendant infrastructure expenses, it might consider:


· Saving ahead for Hearne’s future responses to I-14. Caldwell did this for many years when planning for an events center;

· Working with TxDOT to assure the best ingress/egress from I-14;

· Endeavoring to bring 5G and the latest communications into town to serve existing and future businesses and residents. This would better enable businesses to thrive and residents to more productively work from home;

· Actively recruiting internet-based businesses or call centers which minimize the use of storefronts and don’t rely on pass-by customers. These businesses could easily get incoming & outgoing shipments in all directions;

· Investing millions in the city’s infrastructure like Rockdale & Cameron are doing;

· Applying for grants to stretch local funds with monies that wouldn’t come into Hearne “but-for” outside grants;

· Allowing competition in the local electric market to lower electric rates for existing & prospective businesses & residents to make Hearne a more attractive location;

·  Having to make greater efforts (like providing utility discounts) to keep and attract businesses to a reduced pass-by traffic downtown;

· Making sure that I-14 signs promote local CBD businesses;

· Creating hiking/walking/bicycling trails emanating from CBD;

· Expanding commercial building clean-up & painting efforts to include structures along the full lengths of Hearne’s downtown & highways; 

· Encouraging Robertson County & neighboring Milam County residents to “shop local”; 

· Recruiting more new restaurants (like Double Dave’s) to open on Hearne highways; &

· Hosting holiday markets, farmers markets, crafts fairs, health fairs, etc. to get more local residents accustomed to coming into downtown Hearne.


Taylor ISD built new schools in a spot that will entice businesses to locate near its bypass. Madisonville brought low-income service agencies into its downtown. Milam County is considering moving county offices to an abandoned hospital to free-up downtown county office space for low-income service agencies. Rockdale & Cameron are spending millions on infrastructure improvements, in part, to serve economic development needs. Hearne has the same sorts of infrastructure problems that should be addressed. 


The City of Hearne has a pipe-dream that a major intermodal  (highway, rail, air) facility will be built adjacent to Hearne Municipal Airport.  This dream faces landowner opposition, UP's scaling back of the Brazos Yard, a possible future north/northeast bypass route, etc.


With millions upon millions of dollars being spent on a new interstate that comes just outside of Hearne, it is highly unlikely that on-going railroad grade crossing delays and TX6/US79 drainage problems will ever be fixed. It is far easier and cheaper to simply bypass these problems.


If a city doesn’t annex, a bypass will greatly diminish its income-earning potential from sales, hotel/motel, property, and liquor taxes for new businesses locating along I-14 out of the city limits. A declining population city with problematic schools, these woes will likely be exacerbated by a bypass. It might be difficult for a city to repay long-term sewer plant debts, borrowed monies for an events center and/or new police/fire stations, or cough-up mega-funds to fix crumbling electrical, road, sewer, and water infrastructure. After all, I-14 will likely be here before many 25-year, long-term debts are repaid.


Irrespective of what happens in the mid-term with I-14 to Hearne's south, Hearne's combined US79/TX6 Aggie event, Franklin Ranch, and other destination traffic (coming to this area for a reason) will likely continue to stop & spend money in Hearne. Railroaders will continue to stay/eat/drink in Hearne.  Power plant, coal mine, oil,  gas, pipeline contractors, electric line crews, paratroopers, and others will continue to do likewise.


As for I-14, proactive efforts need to be accomplished NOW to prepare for I-14.  Robertson County’s/Hearne's recent CDBG grant to improve old Humble Water Supply lines out TX6 south is a step in the right direction. Painting the facades of active downtown businesses, vacant, or deteriorating buildings improves downtown’s looks. 


This, however, needs to be accompanied by significant, major private investments (like DaVita & ACE Hardware were in the past). Roofs, walls, interiors, brick re-pointing, structural stability, & asbestos issues need to also need to be addressed.  Rather than being spent as quickly as they accumulate, some sales tax board monies need to be saved & set-aside for future, long-term use. Public monies that had been stockpiled over the years for special projects (like an events center) have long-since vanished. Instead of a “borrow & spend” approach, a “plan ahead & save” plan of action is needed.


Hearne has got its work cut out for it. Forward-thinking leaders need to prepare for its future inevitabilities.


Only time will tell whether the above opinion piece is "fake news" or an on-target educated guess.


USE PROPOSED I-14 TO BRING 5G TO BRAZOS VALLEY


This ROBCOTX DEVELOPMENT & CROSSROADS REPORTS letter to the editor appears online here, on FB @ Kent Brunette, in recent Huntsville Item, BCS Eagle, Madisonville Meteor, & Temple Daily Telegram.  It has been sent to newspapers in five counties along US190.  It is meant to stimulate discussions on how best to benefit locally from these developments.


Historically, cell phone networks were built-out in urban areas and along significant highways. 


Madison, Brazos, Robertson, Milam, & Bell Counties are strategically located in central Texas. Let’s collectively use our local segment of proposed I-14 for getting 5G built-out as quickly as possible between I-45 and I-35. 


Instead of gaps in service, seamless communications capabilities are needed along this “forts to ports” thoroughfare. With precious few new interstate highways under construction, this is a great opportunity to develop best practices blending old and new transportation and communications corridors.


Texas A&M, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Texas A&M - Central Texas, Baylor, SHSU, TEEX, TSTC, Mary Hardin Baylor, Blinn, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc. might join forces with various local governments. Use this five-county stretch of under-development highway as a laboratory. Develop a template that could be used in other parts of America. 


The Trump Administration and the Federal Communications Commission recently announced a 10-year, $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Let’s work together regionally to use some of that money to improve local communications capabilities.


5G is important to us personally as consumers. It will enable existing businesses to expand.  Our area will gain access to all sorts of new health- and transportation-related products & services, plus lots of other stuff. Future economic developments will likely follow emerging digital networks and highways.


The Brazos Valley Council of Governments is installing a COGNET fiber loop that will initially link health care and public service facilities in a multi-county region. That, however, is just one small step in helping locals avail themselves of Information Age technologies.  This new service just went live in Hearne in early July 2019.  Several county businesses are already exploring ways to hitch rides on this information superhighway (and not wait on 5G's roll-out in our area).


Enhanced economic development is a selling point for proposed I-14. Vehicle flow is the primary goal. Information flow should be a secondary goal to serve military communications needs as well as help our area bridge the digital divide.


WHAT SHOULD ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PROSPECTS KNOW ABOUT ROBERTSON COUNTY?


Convenience is the county’s & its cities’ primary calling cards. Just north of B/CS, bounded by the Brazos & Navasota Rivers & Old San Antonio Road, 865 sq mile Robertson County (pop 17,203) is within 200 miles of 80% of Texas’ population. Ever-improving US79, US190, TX6, & nearby US21 bring some 24,000 vehicles a day through Robertson County, which is in the center of a circle bounded by Dallas/Ft. Worth, San Antonio, the Texas Gulf Coast, & Louisiana. About halfway between D/FW & Houston, we are about equidistant between I-35’s & I-45’s busy economic corridors. The closest nearby major airports (other than CLL) include: AUS, DFW, & IAH.


Long-term highway planners envision a new “Forts to Ports” Interstate 14 that follows existing US190 through Robertson County. As part of this, Hearne will likely be getting a relief route or bypass to the west/southwest. The proposed extended “Aggie Highway” (TX249) will bring freight & other traffic from the Texas Coast to BCS & northward towards Dallas through Robertson County. US79 will soon be getting Super 2 highways from Buffalo to Rockdale.


A proposed bullet train route is to the east of us. With seven different UP subdivisions in the county, many central Texas rail lines converge in our county. If the Permian Basin needs to transport petroleum products to the coast, new pipelines are likely built through Robertson County. Some distant cities to our west dream of water pipelines to serve their residents & businesses.  Our county sits above a major water source - the massive Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifier.  


Robertson County’s abundant natural resources have historically contributed to our county’s livelihood. Rich agricultural blacklands, grasslands, sugar sands, & others have served a variety of diverse agricultural needs. Oil & gas exploration, production, & transmission activities have been transient economic mainstays for centuries. Abundant coal seams run through our area & have historically brought mines, power plants, & large numbers of jobs here. 


Over many years, Robertson County’s convenient geographic location prompted the placement of railroad tracks, highways, pipelines, & petroleum product storage tanks in our county. Nothing new, pipeline & petroleum product storage tank activities continue to this day. As the northern gateway to BCS & Aggieland, Robertson County’s increasing highway traffic brings visitors & retail opportunities alike through the county on an on-going basis.


In recent years, a new type of man-made resource has been bringing hordes of visitors into the county - youth athletics.  Franklin ISD’s impressive 84-acre Ranch Community Park consistently brings in Texas Premier Baseball, ASE & other tournaments, & lots of out of town visitors from Spring through Summer. Indeed, Franklin Ranch activities put more heads in local hotel beds than all other local events combined. They also pack local restaurants. Biennial Little Dribbler national championships do the same things.


Robertson County benefits from being close-by to Texas A&M with the jobs & visitors it attracts. Twin Oaks & Oak Grove power plants/coal mines, Nucor Steel, Sanderson Farms, & GATX have been consistent major employers. Power plants routinely attract workover crews who descend upon the county every year or so for weeks on end. The county routinely hosts railroad crews, tie-gangs, signal crews, & lots of other railroad-related personnel. Up until recently, nearby Rockdale’s Alcoa created & maintained large numbers of local area jobs for many years. This site may soon become a new Bitmain manufacturing facility.


Part of the BCS MSA & convenient to seven central Texas county workforce pools (Brazos, Burleson, Falls, Limestone, Leon, Milam, Robertson counties), talented workers are available. Texas A&M’s RELLIS campus is bringing TSTC-type trade & technical training opportunities for local students to our doorstep. College-bound students have Blinn, Texas A&M, & Baylor within easy driving distances. These campuses also offer experts to assist emerging technology, biomedical, agricultural, & other fields.


A half dozen local hotels (Franklin Inn & Suites, Franklin Best Western, Hearne Holiday Inn Express, Hearne Baymont, Hearne Budgetel, Hearne Extended Stay) offer some 300+ nightly rooms of some of the best accommodations surrounding BCS & Texas A&M. Local restaurants offer a variety of dining & catering opportunities for locals, highway travelers, & visiting workers. A half dozen+ local RV Parks have hundreds of spaces to serve visiting worker/traveler needs. Hearne’s Fireman’s Hall, Franklin’s Pridgeon Center, Hearne and Bremond’s Catholic Churches have big halls for gatherings of all types.


While Robertson County is close to BCS’ amenities, it is also a civilized distance away from BCS’ crowds. Enjoying a far less hectic, more relaxed pace, Robertson County is chock full of bucolic farmlands and small-town values. It is home to the biggest residential housing boom just north of B/CS. From historic structures (like Antebellum & Victorian mansions), to cow pastures, to cotton fields, to oil rigs, to baseball tournaments, to the county fair, to Friday Night Lights, we’ve got you covered. We are also blessed with some of the best school districts in the state, low Entergy & Navasota Valley electric rates, as well as low county & city tax rates. 


To help bridge the digital divide between rural & urban areas, the Brazos Valley Council of Governments recently installed a new, lightning fast, fiber optic loop in the county.


Franklin (1,627), the county seat, has the biggest office building in the county - a recently restored & expanded courthouse. A new, under-development, 92-bed county jail is in the works. Other towns include: Hearne (4,523), Calvert (1,154), & Bremond (952). Robertson County EMS, local volunteer fire departments, county sheriffs & constables, & local police departments ably serve our emergency needs.


The local area has experienced a couple of economic development near-misses in recent years. A proposed wallboard plant just north of Calvert did not materialize. Its former highway- and rail-accessible site is now being considered for alternate development. UP’s planned $650 million Brazos Classification Yard may be downsized or altered from its original plans. While Robertson County’s two coal-fired power plants are considered industry flagships, nationally, coal has fallen prey to emissions concerns & lower natural gas prices. Good TEMPORARY economic contributors while they last, oil field, gas field, & pipeline activities are all too transient in nature.


Robertson County has lots of wide-open spaces for your company to plant its roots & grow. Small-, mid, or large-acreage tracts of land can be found in unincorporated area, with or without highway or railroad access. From corporate campuses, to pipeline construction, to oil/gas & power plant/coal mine/power line activities, to distribution & manufacturing facilities, to wholesale or retail operations, Robertson County has property & building offerings of all shapes & sizes.


For prospective businesses interested in highway- & rail-accessible properties for manufacturing or distribution facilities, rural properties can be found. Similar permanent & temporary distribution sites are available. For example, ECMD operates a regional building materials distribution warehouse in Hearne. FEMA also temporarily staged hurricane trailer distribution activities out of the county. 


If a business prospect wishes to build a family recreation facility (like a water park, putt-putt golf, driving range) or a high-end golf course/spa/resort, local property packages can be assembled. We have even got a general aviation airport with 4,000 x 75 ft of lighted runways with adjoining acreage that with is ripe for development. IDIS, a paratrooper training facility, even operates out of it.


ROBCOTX DEVELOPMENT is prepared to help whatever size businesses might be interested in temporarily re-locating to, operating out of, moving to, or building anew in Robertson County. Our professional & proven services are FREE-OF-CHARGE to economic development prospects.

  

HEARNE'S FUTURE TRANSPORTATION PLANNING PROJECT COMMENTS SUBMITTED TO BCS MPO


Robertson County’s existing local traffic issues on major thoroughfares (TX6/US79/US190) significantly affect & serve as major bottlenecks for routine traffic as well as game day, holiday, weekend, & other travel to/from BCS. While these major thru-traffic issues need to be resolved, they pale in comparison to local health, safety, & convenience issues.


With no hospital/trauma center in Robertson County, EMS & other first responders need quick, round the clock, highway access. TX6 is also a major hurricane evacuation route. With any significant amount of rain, however, two TX6 lanes routinely become impassable. Whether it is passing trains or broken crossing signals, railroad grade crossings on combined TX6/US79 routinely create delays that often back-up combined TX6/US79 traffic in both directions. Indeed, even in the absence of highway drainage & railroad problems, Hearne is starting to get rush hour traffic back-ups more & more frequently. 


While lots of efforts are being exerted on connecting “forts to ports” as well as bringing gulf coast traffic northward through the Brazos Valley, greater funding efforts & public attention need to be given to resolving major traffic bottlenecks north of Bryan/College Station.


Highway 49 “Aggie Highway” promises to bring speedier Brazos Valley access to/from Harris County & gulf ports. Highway 36A is envisioned to skirt Harris County & enable Freeport freight traffic northwards through the Brazos Valley toward DFW. The proposed I-14 will likely connect Madisonville & BCS, then head towards Cameron via Hearne.


Combined US79/US190’s Little Brazos River Bridge will soon be replaced with a four-lane, divided bridge with 10 ft. shoulders. The highway itself will become four-lanes from just west of GATX’s main entrance to the other side of FM50. 


Several local sections of two-lane US79 are to be turned into Super 2 Highways. These alternating passing lane highways are slated to be installed from the Leon County line, through Robertson & Milam Counties, to the east side of Rockdale.


Near- to mid-term relief routes around Madisonville, Hearne, and Cameron were called-for in the initial 190 study. While Madisonville’s relief route or bypass appears to be moving forward, neither the Hearne nor Cameron relief routes have been funded. 


There is no official word from TxDOT about these proposed relief routes or bypasses. Several online commentators on the AARoads.com Forum, however, believe that “I-14 will skirt Hearne to the southwest and merge with combined US190/TX6 just south of town.” 


There is absolutely no mention of a northwestern relief route leg that connects with the TX6/US79 interchange north of town. These commenters also think the current US79 Big Brazos River bridge will ultimately be expanded into twin, one-way, two-lane bridges providing a total of four-lanes of traffic.


While many of the above are long-term planning issues, some, like cleaning-out existing silt-filled drains,  improved traffic signal timing, game day/holiday officer-controlled traffic signals, better signage for alternate routes (through Hearne if highway is blocked) should be explored.


ROBCOTX DEVELOPMENT & CROSSROADS REPORTS is a for-profit Hearne-based consulting company. The only economic developer in Robertson County for the past decade & a half, William Kent Brunette routinely promotes Franklin & Robertson County to prospective businesses. While Robertson County is part of the BCS MSA, highway access is often a paramount concern in local rural economic development discussions.


FRANKLIN'S FUTURE TRANSPORTATION PLANNING PROJECTS COMMENTS SUBMITTED TO BCS MPO


US79 between I-45 in Buffalo & combined TX6/US79/US190 in Hearne is a popular cut-through route for Bryan/College Station & other central Texas travelers. Indeed, Robertson County highways (including those through Franklin) serve as important gateways to the BCS MSA. 


Franklin ISD’s large, popular, state-of-the-art, Ranch Community Park brings baseball teams, parents, coaches, followers from all over the state to Franklin from early Spring through late Summer. Biennial Little Dribbler National Tournaments do the same thing. 


Franklin is on increasingly travelled US79. Our small town has experienced significant westward growth in recent years. Due to this, a center turning lane is needed from Cook’s Lane eastward through a growing commercial strip. It now includes a BCVAA Health Point Clinic, Knucklehead’s Hardware Store, Franklin Grocery Store, CEFCO + Lion’s Den Convenience/Gas Stores, Family Dollar Store, South Star Bank, emergency helicopter landing pad, Franklin Inn & Suites hotel, Amigo’s Restaurant, Subway Restaurant, Pizza Hut/Wing Street, Edward Jones, tax preparation, car wash, & other businesses. A new $19 million county jail will soon bring increased traffic to this area. Other highway properties are for sale & will likely be developed in the near future. 


A new turn lane needs to serve the above & expected growth. What’s more, this turning lane needs to be extended as far back as the Mud Creek Store, Chicken Express, Dixie Café complex outside of the western Franklin city Limits. This would serve several businesses between the Mud Creek site & the existing Franklin city limits at Cook’s Lane. 


A badly-needed turning lane is currently being installed at the Franklin Wildlife Safari. Another turning lane needs to be installed at the Franklin Ranch Community Park whose Spring thru Summer tournaments attract over 25,000 visitors a year to Franklin.


Parts of US79 (which connects TX6 with I-45) are slated to be outfitted with Super 2 turning lanes which will allow travelers to go around slower moving vehicles. These will extend from the Leon County line through Franklin to Hearne. Turning lanes also need to be installed at major intersections, like US79 at Elliott (FM2549) & US79 at New Baden (FM1940). FM2549 provides a thru- or back-route from US79 to TX6; FM1940 connects US79 with Camp Creek & Old San Antonio Road. With UP’s mega Brazos Yard construction in nearby Mumford, these intersections are prime spots of railroad-accessible new businesses.


Franklin & Robertson County are important parts of the BCS MSA’s current & future transportation corridors. As traffic continues to grow in this area, US79 via Franklin provides an important (yet virtually unnoticed) connection with I-45 as US79 extends from Buffalo through Franklin to Hearne. Improved US79 from Robertson County westward will provide greater mobility & better connections to Rockdale, Taylor, & Round Rock.

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Local TxDOT News

SUPER 2 HIGHWAYS SLATED FOR US79


Are you concerned about hazardous spots and increasing traffic on US79 in our area?


In the near term, a turning lane at the Franklin Drive-Thru Safari will likely be built. Shortly after that, turning lanes for the new Robertson County Jail will probably be added. Hopefully, these will stretch from Cook’s Lane all the way to the Wash Depot. 


Starting over a year from now, combined US79/US190’s Little Brazos River Bridge will be replaced with a four-lane, divided bridge with 10 ft. shoulders at a cost of $9.8 million. The highway itself will become four-lanes from just west of GATX’s main entrance to the other side of FM50. Then, some $12 million will likely be spent on an FM50/UPRR overpass near the Mumford School.


To get a glimpse of what the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) might have in store for local sections of highways in the mid- to long-term, I consulted their online Project Tracker for the Bryan District. 


Don’t get your hopes up yet – this is a long-term plan. In 5 – 10 years, this project tracker calls for several local sections of two-lane US79 to be turned into Super 2 Highways. These alternating passing lane highways are slated to be installed from the Leon County line, through Robertson & Milam Counties, to the east side of Rockdale.


Beginning in Buffalo heading west, an $80 million project would widen 8.1 miles of US79 to a 4-lane divided highway. Then, from Buffalo all the way to Rockdale, Super 2 Highways would alternately be placed on various sections of US79. From the Leon to the Milam County lines, $38.5 million would be spent on US79 in Robertson County for 22.24 miles of Super 2 Highways. 


Then, another $13 million would be spent in Milam County for these supped-up highways between Rockdale and the Brazos River. 


According to TxDOT’s website, “A Super 2 Highway is where a periodic passing lane is added to a two-lane rural highway to allow passing of slower vehicles and the dispersal of traffic platoons. The passing lane will alternate from one direction of travel to the other within a section of roadway allowing passing opportunities in both directions. A Super 2 project can be introduced on an existing two-lane roadway where there is a significant amount of slow-moving traffic, limited sight distance for passing, and/or the existing traffic volume has exceeded the two-lane highway capacity, creating the need for vehicles to pass on a more frequent basis.”


The closest existing Super 2 Highway is TX21 between Madisonville and Bryan.


In recent years, TX21 has been greatly improved. TX6 is now four-lanes with a center median from Waco to Hempstead. 8.515 miles of turning lanes will soon be installed along combined TX6/US190 from .27 miles north of Abbott Road (CR226) to .45 miles south of Sadberry Road (CR806). These will cost some $5,426,440.


US79 is now four-lane from Round Rock to Rockdale. In coming years, US79 between Rockdale and I-45 is slated for the above improvements. 

Food for thought as TxDOT plans ahead to handle ever-increasing traffic in our area.

  

IS PROPOSED I-14 INCHING ITS WAY TOWARDS ROBERTSON COUNTY?


In the next ten years, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is planning to build several Super 2 Highways along US79 in our area. One runs east from Milano on combined US190/US79 towards Hearne. The US79 Little Brazos River bridge is also slated to be replaced starting about a year and a half from now.


On combined TX6/US190, two-way turning lanes will start being installed around the first of next year from the railroad overpass south of Hearne to OSR.


These planned improvements are roughly along the US190 route of the proposed new I-14 through this area. So, I thought I’d consult TxDOT’s Project Tracker to see what else might be planned along US190 around us.


In the next ten years, a new 3.525-mile “non-freeway facility loop” is slated for construction around Madisonville. This will be constructed to the tune of $120 million plus some change for an engineering study. Then, at a cost of almost $80 million, most of US190 from Madisonville to the Brazos County line will be turned into a four-lane divided highway.


Near- to mid-term relief routes around Madisonville, Hearne, and Cameron were called-for in the initial study. While Madisonville’s relief route or bypass appears to be moving forward, neither the Hearne now Cameron relief routes have been funded. 


There is no official word from TxDOT about these proposed relief routes or bypasses. Several online commentators on the AARoads.com Forum, however, believe that “I-14 will skirt Hearne to the southwest and merge with combined US190/TX6 just south of town.” 


There is absolutely no mention of a northwestern relief route leg that connects with the TX6/US79 interchange north of town. These commenters also think the current US79 Big Brazos River bridge will ultimately be expanded into twin, one-way, two-lane bridges providing a total of four-lanes of traffic. 


Some ten years ago when TxDOT’s U190 strategic planning feasibility study was done, it reported that potential improvements considered were:


· Providing for additional travel lanes when needed;

· Providing for relief routes around cities/towns;

· Adding passing lanes consistent with a “Super 2” roadway design standard; and

· Roadway design enhancements such as interchange improvements, adding shoulders where needed, and/or elimination of at-grade railroad crossings.


We are starting to get some of these improvements in this area. While it will take years to get an I-14 functioning in Robertson County, incremental improvements that may be part of a grander scheme of things are coming our way.


Economic development prospects always ask about traffic counts on local highways and distances to local interstates as well as major airports. Ponder this. Franklin may soon be one of the most conveniently located towns in Texas by being: 


· 41 miles away from I-45

· 62 miles from I-35; and

· 14 miles away from I-14.


From convenience, traffic congestion-relief, and long-term economic development perspectives, improved Super 2 Highways will reduce travel times. Short distances to interstates will increase Franklin’s marketability to potential businesses as well as make travelling easier and safer for local residents, existing, and prospective businesses. 

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THE GOOD LIFE: Franklin Style

Some call it the best little bedroom community just north of B/CS. Lots of folks are discovering much sought-after, down-home living around Franklin, Robertson County’s seat of government.


In recent years, an increasingly vibrant Franklin and its environs have been the epicenter of a major residential building boom in this mostly rural 865-square mile county. Residential subdivisions are being built on bucolic farmlands. Many small-acre parcels on rural roads are getting impressive new homes. Numerous lots on the west side of this thriving town now sport pricey new homes.


Over a half-dozen different home-studded subdivisions include:


  • New one on FM2446;
  • Bishopville Road (on West US79);
  • Camp Creek Lake;
  • Deep Creek Forest (Owensville Cemetery Rd);
  • Hickory Ridge (on FM2446)
  • Indian Creek (on North FM46);
  • Lawson's Creek (behind golf course)
  • Morgan-Woods (off of South FM46).
  • Oak Tree (on North FM46);
  • Wood Forest (on North FM46);
  • Rural Properties; &
  • Lots Around Town.

Building activities continue at nearby Camp Creek Lake. Older cabins are being replaced with splashy new homes.


Why has the area around Franklin become the epitome of the country-style good life in the shadow of Aggieland?


A combination of factors is attracting Franklin area home-building residents:


  • Quality schools (Franklin ISD is the largest in geographic area of Robertson County’s five school districts. This highly desirable district has approximately 1,100 students, over 300 in the high school alone);
  • World-class student facilities. The envy of many, the year-round Franklin ISD Ranch Community Park on FM46 is very impressive. Also consider Hedrick Field, indoor football practice field, performing arts center, tennis and other school complexes;
  • Low city (0.45326 per $100 valuation), school (1.23000), and county (0.48500) tax rates;
  • Reasonable utility rates from Entergy (in-town) or Navasota Valley (rural areas);
  • Relaxed pace;
  • Wide open spaces;
  • Friendly people;
  • Convenient, off-the-beaten path location, Franklin is only 35-miles north of B/CS. It is a pleasant drive to/from B/CS, its jobs and amenities;
  • Easy access to major highways. On US79, Franklin is 15 minutes away from TX6 and US190; 25 minutes to TX21; 40 minutes to I-45; 70 miles to I-35; and
  • Blinn College, Texas A&M’s main campus, Texas A&M’s RELLIS campus, biomedical corridor, University of Texas, Baylor, McLennan Community College, Texas State Technical College, and Sam Houston State University are all within easy commutes.

Part of the College Station-Bryan metropolitan statistical area, Franklin is in the geographic center of Robertson County (first county due north of Brazos County). 


According to 2016 federal census estimates, Franklin has 1,564 residents. Robertson County itself has an estimated 16,751 residents. 


Easily manageable numbers of vehicles (7,718 a day) routinely travel US79 through Franklin. An average of nine daily freight trains remind visitors and residents alike of Franklin’s agricultural roots and UP’s on-going efforts to transport commodities.


Existing economic developments are just a hop, skip, or jump away from Franklin. Many of these longtime businesses are some of our area’s biggest employers. Some are new entrants. Franklin is within easy driving distances of:


  • Luminant’s Oak Grove Power Plant and Kosse Mine; 
  • Optim Energy’s Twin Oaks Power Plant and Kiewit’s Walnut Creek Mining Company;
  • Easterly’s Sanderson Farms’ Feed Mill;
  • Jewett’s Nucor Steel; 
  • Hearne’s ECMD, GATX, FEMA, Enterprise, as well as temporary workers from Enterprise, Magellan, & Valero pipeline extensions; 
  • Agricultural operations (from cotton and grain, to produce, to farms and ranches, to exotic animals); plus
  • Areas closest to Franklin have been a hotbed of oil and gas exploration, production, and distribution activities. 

Pending regional economic developments are also nearby, including:


  • Calvert’s proposed wallboard plant; and
  • Union Pacific’s under-construction Brazos Yard between Hearne and Mumford.

Most people prefer to live comfortable distances away from their jobs. A brief Robertson County commute to/from Franklin is a piece of cake when compared to fighting grueling hours of big-city, rush-hour, across-town, bumper-to-bumper traffic on accident-prone freeways.


Franklin’s hotels, RV Parks, restaurants, and businesses get their shares of highway traffic, sporting event participants, and temporary workers. Some people filling the new full-time, permanent jobs heading our way will likely consider moving to Franklin with their families if they settle in Robertson County.

431 SQUARE MILE FRANKLIN ISD IS LARGEST SCHOOL DISTRICT IN GEOGRAPHIC AREA IN ROBERTSON COUNTY

Did you know that the massive Franklin ISD covers more square miles (431) than ALL of Robertson County's other four school districts (Bremond, Calvert, Hearne, & Mumford) combined?


A White & Associates "for sale" sign marks the beginning of the Franklin school district on Bart Lockhart's property as you travel east on US79 out of Hearne. Franklin ISD is also on the east side of Harless Lane. Take a gander at just all of the area that this massive school district encompasses. People who want to move into Franklin ISD have lots of properties from which to choose.

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TEXAS ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE COMMISSION LOCAL OPTION STATUS

People routinely ask me why some areas of Robertson County can sell alcohol and why some can’t.


Prohibition was a national constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. Marked by the roaring twenties, speakeasies, temperance leagues, moonshine, and stills, it began in 1920 shortly after the end of WWI and was repealed thirteen years later in 1933 during the Great Depression and shortly after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office. 


In the interceding years, Texas has become a patchwork of varying permissible drinking legal requirements through local option elections. Determined by county, justice of the peace precinct, or city, the chart below shows the confusing array of wet, partially wet, dry, beer, wine, distilled spirit, mixed beverage, on-premise, off-premise regulations currently in effect in Robertson County.


  • Robertson County PW: B-On, B-Off, W-On, W-Off, DS-Off, MB
  • JP1  W: B-On, B-Off, W-On, W-Off; PW: DS-Off, MB
  • JP2  W: B-On, B-Off, W-Off, DS-Off; PW: W-On, MB
  • JP3   PW: B-On, B-Off
  • JP4  W: B-Off, W-Off, DS-Off; PW: B-On, W-On, MB
  • Bremond  W: B-On, B-Off, W-On, W-Off, DS-Off, MB
  • Calvert  W: B-On, B-Off
  • Franklin   Dry (Louie’s Icehouse has a private club license)
  • Hearne  W: B-On, B-Off, W-On, W-Off, DS-Off, MB

While some jurisdictions still prefer to remain dry, the vast majority of local option elections that have been held in central Texas in recent years have passed. In 2018, Burleson, Brazos, Grimes, Falls, Freestone, Limestone, McLellan, Madison, Milam, and Robertson counties are all listed as totally or partially wet by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The notable exceptions are the towns and JP precincts around Centerville, Franklin, Gause, part of Golinda, and Mumford. 


Why are local option elections passing? The reasons are varied: to attract full-service restaurants, diversify tax bases, compete for tax dollars with neighboring jurisdictions and business establishments, accommodate local residents, hotel visitors, keep visitors in town, and relax decades old regulations. Except for the notable exceptions above, it is not uncommon to see beer and wine being sold for take-away in grocery stores, dollar stores, convenience stores, restaurants, and clubs. 


In recent years, here is what has happened in Robertson County:


  • Bremond, all alcoholic beverages including mixed beverages, Passed 11/5/2013.
  • JP Pct. 1 (extends from Hearne through Calvert to Lake Limestone), Beer & Wine, Passed 11/6/2012.
  • Hearne, all alcoholic beverages including mixed beverages, Passed 5/9/2009.
  • Calvert, Mixed beverages - restaurants w/ FB only, Failed for procedural reasons (never voted on).

As a result of the above, much of Robertson County is already wet. This includes that part of the Calvert JP precinct that comes within a couple of miles of the Franklin city limits. It also includes big areas of Franklin ISD from just east of Hearne to just west of Franklin. The line then runs from Mudd Creek to Rocken S Saloon, before progressing northeast all the way to Lake Limestone.


Irrespective of whatever a jurisdiction may desire, state law still allows for the existence of private clubs which can sell alcohol. This is the type of license Louie’s Icehouse in Franklin has.


A request filed by 10 or more voters in a jurisdiction is what initially triggers a local option election. Then, a petition seeking to change a jurisdiction’s drinking status must be signed by 35% of the voters within the jurisdiction based on the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election. 


In the Franklin city limits, this number is 238. These signatures of City of Franklin voters must be gathered within 60 days of filing the initial request. With sufficient valid signatures, the Franklin City Council must act in a ministerial fashion to call an election on the next uniform election date. 

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RAIL RICH, SPUR POOR

“I’m looking for some property with an existing rail spur.” 


This comment has been repeated on countless occasions by lots of different business prospects. Sadly, Robertson County does not currently have any such rail spur-ready properties. This fact gives rise to the observation that our county is “Rail Rich & Spur Poor.” In recent decades, this has been the single biggest unmet economic development need in our county.


Local rail spurs are few and far between. A long-active spur is at the rear of GATX behind Riverside Cemetery. Both power plants and coal mines have spurs. The newest spur is at Easterly’s Sanderson Farms Feed Mill. Calvert’s proposed wallboard plant plans to build one.


The City of Franklin might investigate the possibility of getting a spur approved for the railroad- and highway-adjacent, in the city limits, 44-acre industrial park. This property is owned by the city and has an average of a scant nine daily (primarily north-bound) freight trains. It also has quadruple tracks (four parallel rails) coming through town (for several miles from before the food pantry to the roadside park).  Such a spur approval would help grease the skids for a potential new business or grants to build this spur. 


Efforts are being made to include this property on Union Pacific’s new web-based property search tool. This website is at up.com, tap on “customers” in the “Section Menu” at the bottom left-hand side, then hit the grey “Industrial Development” box under “Expand Your Reach” (again at the bottom left-hand side). Next hit “Site Selections Tool: finding a suitable location for your rail-served business has never been easier.” 


According to this website, “Union Pacific identifies and promotes greenfield sites and existing Union Pacific rail-served sites and buildings so you can find a suitable location for your rail-based business and/or develop your new rail-based facility.” At present, an industrial park in Hutto is the closest such facility listed in our area on UP’s property search tool.


Some local properties may appear to be rail accessible, but they are NOT. While you might see an old siding or old railroad entrance into a property, these have often not been used in years. They may be in such bad shape that they would have to be totally rebuilt to accommodate today’s transportation standards. Such unused tracks are at ECMD, Wilbur-Ellis, and former Crane Plumbing.


Then, there’s the question of traffic volume. These days, rail customers need to be able to guarantee a push of a minimum of about 100 or so railcars per month. It has to be economically feasible for the railroad to send a crew, an engine, and allocate track space for local activities.


Next, the property has to qualify. A while back, a prime piece of property was located. Upon checking with the railroad, the property was too close to an interlocker. It was also on a track where a train would have just rounded a curve. In addition, the negative incline on the property would not accommodate spur traffic. 


Some properties along highly trafficked main rail routes are unavailable for development. With back-to-back trains on schedules on a main line, no spur-related delays can be tolerated. This is true for some properties surrounding Union Pacific’s Brazos Yard.


Last, but certainly not least, is the question of cost. Rail spur construction and rail switch costs are very hefty.


Occasionally, new rail-dependent businesses will ante-up money to build a spur. Deep-pocketed investors might also acquire significant trackside acreage to build a private industrial park for multiple rail-dependent businesses. Governmental entities also build spurs. The City of Bryan’s/Brazos County Economic Development Corporation’s Texas Triangle Park/Inland Port has its own rail spur.  Axis Pipe & Tube is the primary corporate tenant. Cameron’s Industrial Park has rail frontage. 


The first step is for an owner to identify a highway- and rail-accessible property that is suitable for industrial development. Since a railroad runs past it, Franklin’s Industrial Park already has such highly-sought trackside access.

UNION PACIFIC'S BRAZOS YARD

Union Pacific’s Brazos Yard is a major regional economic development. This fact was underscored at UP’s and the Hearne Chamber’s meeting last week.


Attendees included: one congressional aide; two state representatives and their aides; Robertson County judge and a commissioner; mayors of Bryan, College Station, and Hearne; Mumford ISD superintendent; UP officials as well as City of Hearne, City of Franklin, and Hearne Chamber representatives. 


Brazos, Burleson, Milam, and Robertson counties as well as their cities/communities are all hoping to reap benefits from this development. While Mumford ISD’s and Robertson County’s tax bases will directly benefit, indirect local benefits might include:


  • Increased sales and hotel/motel taxes;
  • Hotel rooms; 
  • RV park slots;
  • Other rental accommodations (houses, apartments, rooms);
  • Temporary construction jobs;
  • Permanent full-time railroad jobs;
  • Familiarizing re-locating railroaders with children with local school districts;
  • Introducing newcomers to local housing markets; 
  • Finding office sites for the primary contractor and several dozen sub-contractors;
  • Leasing or selling properties with or without rail spurs to possible spin-off businesses;
  • Contractor work (electrical, paving, truck drivers, heavy equipment operators);
  • Equipment rentals;
  • Materials hauling;
  • Restaurant customers and caterings;
  • Vehicle maintenance and repair work; 
  • Developing relationships with local merchants; and
  • Creating or expanding trade/technical programs for high schoolers and folks 18+.

Robertson County entities need to try to pull as many of these things as possible toward us.  After all, we are competing with our neighbors in adjoining counties. They too are promoting their own businesses, hotels, schools, trade/technical training facilities, housing markets, contractors, job-seekers, etc.


Hordes of visiting railroaders come to Hearne several times a week. They live/vote elsewhere and stay in a hotel. Familiar faces, these peripatetic workers are almost local residents. After all, they spend parts of 150+ days a year in Hearne.


When the yard was officially announced, railroaders with children started inquiring about our local school districts. While six fairly new housing developments already surround Franklin, TWO more are rumored to be under development along West US79 in Franklin ISD. Individual properties are also for sale in this area. Closer than you might think, the Franklin school district boundary extends towards Hearne along US79 from Elliott for a considerable distance (to Harless Lane).


Homes on the market in Hearne will likely also sell. Several railroaders have indicated an interest in buying a house, sharing it with their railroad buddies, and commuting to/from their existing homes in San Antonio, Longview, Ft. Worth, Spring, or wherever they currently live.


With UP a major corporate sponsor, the new RELLIS campus will likely provide the bulk of railroad-related trade/technical education. Some Robertson County folks will likely benefit from having TSTC-type trade/technical offerings nearby. 


The City of Navasota and Blinn are pioneering a program to train 18+ year-olds in locally-needed vocations. City of Franklin and Franklin ISD officials recently met with Blinn to discuss a similar program that would cater to two totally separate groups: (1) high school students (through the school), plus (2) those 18+ (through the city).


Local students and residents 18+ often wish to find nearby jobs. Many need to be trained in job safety, computer, welding, railroading, diesel mechanics, power plant, truck driving, heavy equipment operating, and whatever other skills may be needed in our local job market. Electricians, plumbers, HVAC, and others are also needed.


Lots of people are interested in applying for local UP jobs. It is too early, however, for Brazos Yard temporary or permanent jobs. To see positions currently available, go to up.com.


Maps have been submitted to UP to determine if Franklin’s 44-acre industrial park on East US79 could accommodate a rail spur. TxDOT guidelines are being reviewed for possible placement of “Franklin Ranch” pointing-arrow signs on US79.

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