Texoma residents reached out to Newschannel 6 about concerns of major traffic congestion in one popular Wichita Falls shopping center that have prompted drivers to use an unauthorized alleyway shortcut.
Anchor Brittany Glas reached out to city officials, business owners, and drivers in the Lawrence, Call Field, and Rhea Road area to see how they're dealing with the thoroughfare traffic.
Newschannel 6 filed a request with the Wichita Falls Police Department to find out how many traffic accidents have happened in and around the area. The past nine months, since the Rhea Road realignment project finished in November 2012, nearly 50 accidents were reported.
The Texas Department of Transportation released the most recent saturation data report in 2010 for the city of Wichita Falls. The reports are compiled every five years. The data provides a count of the volume of traffic in a 24 hour time period across major roadways in the Falls. The latest counts show that city streets surrounding Wichita Square remain an issue (i.e. Lawrence, Call Field, and Rhea Roads).
Mark Beauchamp, traffic superintendent for the city of Wichita Falls, told Newschannel 6 that the area has dealt with construction since 2010.
He said it's "a good problem… we like to see construction, but it has led to some traffic congestion," Beauchamp said.
Bobby Teague, the Assistant Director of Community Development in Wichita Falls, told Newschannel 6, "With the addition of Chick-fil-A and then, of course, you have Dickey's Bar-B-Que and Rib Crib at the two different ends of that parking lot, you're going to have some congestion within the parking [lot]."
The alleyway behind Kohl's in Wichita Square has become a new outlet to avoid traffic in the Lawrence, Call Field, Rhea Road intersections.
Ann Marie Hilmi is a Wichita Falls resident who drives behind the alleyway behind the Kohl's building to avoid traffic.
"It's a shortcut for me, it saves me about ten minutes, depending on if Chick-fil-A is having lunch hour and it just puts me closer to where I want to get. Most of the time I'm heading back up Lawrence," said Hilmi.
During lunch hour Tuesday, Brittany Glas took to the streets to get a closer look at the traffic concerns and the new problem concerning the alleyway shortcut. Within 60 minutes, from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m., 94 vehicles used the road that goes behind Kohl's – next to Dickey's Bar-B-Que. The data equates to more than one vehicle per minute.
However, despite the congestion in the thru way, it is not authorized for public access.
The picture attached to this web story is the only sign Newschannel 6 found that notified drivers they should not use the street.
Brittany Glas spoke with the owners of Dickey's to see if they posted the small white sign because it is closest to their business. Although they did not wish to appear on camera, they told Newschannel 6 they did not post the sign and said it has been there since they have been in operation.
Newschannel 6 spoke with drivers breaking the mandate. Most told us they had no idea the sign was there.
"I've never seen the sign... What do I think about it? If I can't see it, I really can't respond to it. Maybe if it were bigger, maybe posted along the fence, or lessen your tax burden and sell it to the town and make it an access," Hilmi said.
Iowa Park resident, Kim Scott, said it's a convenience. He said the city needs to respond to the call because the area is clearly a traffic issue.
Despite residents' call to action, Newschannel 6 learned the traffic congestion is not the city's responsibility and is technically beyond their jurisdiction because the alleyway is clearly marked on private property.
Assistant Director of Community Development, Bobby Teague, said, "It's really up to the architect and the developer as to what kind of layout that they will have for traffic… The city is responsible for traffic on streets and intersections and things like that, but once it gets in to the property, then it's the developer and the architect that design it."
"As far as us going in and saying, 'you are going to put a stop sign here,' we really don't have that authority because it is private property," added Mark Beauchamp.
The situation begs the question: "If Wichita Falls and law enforcement have no control over traffic flow in the parking lot, where are the property owners and do they have plans to alleviate congestion concerns?" That's when getting answers from the property owner became a journey in itself.
The stretch of building in the complex that occupies Kohl's and Dickey's is owned by KO Wichita Falls Portfolio, L.P. Even though the company is filed in Texas, Brittany Glas was directed to offices located everywhere from Delaware to even Canada to try and get in touch with executives.
We reached out to the limited partnership's corporation registered agent and found out the L.P. is incorporated in Delaware. Newschannel 6 learned the general partner for the limited partnership is KO Wichita Falls, G.P., L.L.C. The company is listed under H&R Real Estate Investment Trust and is reportedly located in Downsview, Ontario, Canada.
After talking again with the owners of Dickey's Bar-B-Que, they referred Brittany Glas to their corporate contact – the company they pay their rent to: Dallas-based Corner Real Estate Services. Once in contact with the regional representative, Newschannel 6 was told their services only have to deal with matter inside store doors and have nothing to do with the parking lot or traffic therein.
That contact then referred Newschannel 6 to a corporate representative with Kohl's, Jeff Poole. Although we reached out to Poole for comment on whether the property owner plans on doing anything about traffic congestion in the popular parking lot, we were informed that he is out of the office.
Newschannel 6 is waiting for his comment via voicemail and email inquiry.
Wichita Falls city officials said although they have no jurisdiction and/or authority to act in the area, there are other options to ease traffic concerns.
"They do have Maplewood as a reliever road and [it] is being underutilized. There's still a lot more capacity on Maplewood that would do the exact same thing they are trying to do by cutting back behind those businesses," said Beauchamp.
6 On Your Side will take a look at different issues impacting the Texoma community each Thursday night. If you have something you would like Brittany to look into, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brittany Glas, Newschannel 6