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Knight ready to roll up sleeves and keep working

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    Liberty County Judge Jay Knight addresses the audience during the official swearing-in ceremony in January. The Vindicator | Russell Payne
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    The newest officers for the 2023 H- GAC Board of Directors were announced and sworn in. Judge Trey Duhon of Waller County will serve as the new board chair, Houston City Councilmember Sallie Alcorn will serve as chair elect, and Judge Jay Knight of Libert

LIBERTY – Just a few short weeks into his third term Liberty County Judge Jay Knight is excited to see several significant projects finally coming full circle.

Over the last eight years, Knight has been at work on varying projects of importance in terms of transportation, drainage, and other infrastructure. Each focuses on improving the quality of life for residents across the area.

That work has not gone unnoticed, as Knight was recently sworn in as the Vice-Chair of the Houston-Galveston Area Council, where he will serve as Chair in 2024.

“It is definitely a great honor, and it will be a busy position, yet a grand and rewarding challenge to work with all of H-GAC to identify and solve problems for all of the 13 Counties included in the H-GAC COG,” said Knight.

The H-GAC consists of 13 counties and countless municipalities in the area and works to solve issues and correct problems on a regional scale.

Back at home in Liberty County, transportation consistently garners the bulk of the conversation, and as the county grows, so grows the need for safe and dependable travel options.

Knight laid out what he expects will be a better working relationship with TxDOT in the coming future, as he has brought concerns and hopes for that relationship to the new Beaumont District Engineer Martin Gonzalez.

“Since I have been in office, we have been through three district engineers, which is pretty much unheard of,” Knight continued, “Martin is a sharp guy, and his focus is on development, the things we really need.”

He spoke about the recent completion of the Liberty County Transportation Study through HGAC and said those results would be released to the public around March.

“ Some of the things that are inclusive in that transportation study are routes around Dayton to ease the traffic internally,” said Knight.

The study expected to outline plans for several major thoroughfares to connect several growing areas.

Those include connectors at US HWY 59 to SH 321 between Dayton and Cleveland, as well as connecting HWY 146 to FM 1409 and the potential to go across the Trinity to FM 563, which Knight says is undoubtedly a goal.

“ What we did in the transportation study and plans that are inclusive is we prioritized which ones need to be first. My main goal is to get something from 563 over to 146 south of Dayton and Liberty,” said Knight.

The judge believes that will go a long way towards easing traffic through the area, especially when traffic is routed off I-10.

Knight also mentioned the hottest transportation topic locally, you guessed it, the Dayton train. The project will take an estimated 18- 24 months to complete once underway.

“ I know I started on it seven and a half years ago, almost eight years,” Knight continued, “the estimated let date for that project is May of 2024.”

Knight said other projects like the overpass at US HWY 90 and FM 1413 are underway, with a good deal of the work already underway.

For Knight, perhaps the most critical work in the county is the overall improvement of drainage, as he touted a $ 21.3 million grant the county will receive from H- GAC. However, funds were made available from FEMA by way of the Texas General Land Office.

“ That’s a big one,” Knight exclaimed.

The funds were designated for flood mitigation, but the county has received a variance allowing funding to go toward a comprehensive drainage study.

“$21.3 million isn’t gonna mitigate nothing, but the county has never had a comprehensive study and a comprehensive plan for drainage. We’ve had piece mill things done, but never a total plan,” said Knight.

The judge hopes those funds will allow the county to understand and plan for drainage issues.

“ I’ve been working on this for seven years. It was a fight going to the GLO headquarters and beating on the table, and we finally got what we wanted out of the deal,” said Knight.

Once the plan is complete and adopted by the commissioners, it will establish a mitigation plan that will pass the cost of drainage on to developers.

“Any kind of development. Industrial, residential, commercial, they have to adhere to the plan, and then the mitigation part of that falls on their backs, where they pay for it,” he said.

Knight also expects to see plans for a county-wide drainage district come together, with grant funding and impact fees funding the way, not ad valorem taxes.

“ Drainage districts that are in the county will fall under the canopy of the new drainage district,” said Knight.

One major project finally wrapping is the Liberty County Law Enforcement Complex, with the sheriff ’s office working on getting settled and the open house set for Wednesday, Feb. 22.

Another area of focus in the coming months is the need for a new jail. The location is already known, as it will be on the same grounds as the new sheriff ’s offi ce.

“There is no doubt that our jail is overcrowded, and right now, we have inmates in at least five counties and two parishes that are housed there because we are out of room,” said Knight.

According to the judge, the county has been working to meet jail standards and stay in compliance with the existing jail, thus the need to move inmates to other facilities.

Now the county must find solutions for the future, and the planning stages are just around the corner.

“Our anticipation is we’ll start on the design phase this year,” he said.

With the plate already full, the judge has his sights set on other major projects, with a new judicial center and courthouse restoration project one day down the road.

“Time to roll our sleeves up and get busier,” he concluded.