McKINNEY — Collin County residents and city leaders got an early glimpse of possible freeway corridors to improve traffic gridlock along U.S. Highway 380 Thursday at the first of three public meetings.
The Texas Department of Transportation is gathering resident feedback as part of its feasibility study to analyze possible highway improvements. Other meetings are scheduled for Tuesday and May 3.
While some were breathing sighs of relief that the five route options presented during Thursday’s meeting at McKinney’s Sheraton Hotel wouldn’t cut through their homes, others remain concerned.
Three of the five possible routes, for example, would plow through Kevin Voigt’s home just outside McKinney’s city limits.
“Not by it. Not in front of it, but through it,” said Voigt, who bought the five-acre property when he moved to Texas from California two years ago to live on more space and for his three kids to attend good schools.
“I’m respectful of development, but these are flawed alignments, and it’s not just because it impacts me,” he said. “They’re just simply flawed alignments. Any bypass that is a mile to a mile-and-a-half above the affected area makes no sense.”
The offered alignments have been more than a year coming as residents in the rural part of the county have anxiously waited for an indication of what a new freeway could mean for their homes and land.
TxDOT spokesman Ryan LaFontaine said it’s still unclear exactly how many residents and businesses would be impacted by any of the proposed routes. That is still being studied, but he said it’s difficult to know because Collin County is growing so rapidly.
“We realize there are a bunch of people who live here now. This will be a big undertaking, and many people are interested in this and rightfully so,” LaFontaine said, stressing that this is a feasibility study and that it’s possible nothing will happen.
McKinney Mayor George Fuller said that until data on the impact of each alignment is known, it will be difficult to form an opinion on the scenarios. All people have seen so far are alignments “with no context.”
Still, he said, it’s a critical discussion as the city continues to grow.
“The decisions we make today … are going to determine are we going to be a dynamic city or are we not?” Fuller said.
Five options for freeway routes were presented Thursday. No final alignment has been selected. Other than building a freeway, other options include building grade-separated intersections that would keep the highway’s current alignment while allowing drivers to bypass some major intersections. Another option is to do nothing.
“Some people think it’s already a done deal, and that’s not true at all,” TxDOT spokeswoman Michelle Raglon said in a previous interview. “We’re very early in the planning process.”
Since February 2017, residents fearful about a potential bypass north of U.S. 380 have attended McKinney City Council meetings, voicing a loud “no” to the idea of a highway that would cut through their homes and divide their neighborhoods.
Last year, the city issued a draft of possible road alignments to guide the Texas Department of Transportation as it worked to tackle the traffic that has come with Collin County’s explosive growth.
It also garnered a public outcry.
Traffic congestion isn’t just a problem in McKinney. Collin County is expected to double in size before 2030 and surpass the individual populations of Dallas and Tarrant counties by hitting the 3.5 million-resident mark by 2050. McKinney’s population of nearly 180,000 is projected to increase to roughly 284,000 by 2040.
Congestion on the county’s major roadways will only get worse.
Collin County commissioners are looking to ask for up to $671 million in transportation improvements at a November bond election. As much as 80 percent of the funding would go toward building highways in the eastern and northern parts of the county, areas expected to see significant population growth. Improvements to Highway 380 are part of that project list.
According to McKinney traffic count estimates, more than 50,000 people a day drove on U.S. 380 in 2015. Countywide, traffic on the highway grew about 30 percent from 2010 to 2016, TxDOT stated.
A portion of the roadway between Frisco and Prosper is being upgraded to a six-lane freeway with access roads.
Michael Quint, executive director of development services for McKinney, said recently that Collin County is “definitely behind the eight ball” in its number of highways compared to where Dallas and Tarrant counties were when they were of similar size.
And according to TxDOT, by 2040 Collin County is set to be larger than Dallas County was last year — but with “many less freeways.”
TxDOT said in a study of the highway two years ago that a freeway “provides the best mobility and safety, and addresses the long term needs of the communities,” but it noted that a more detailed study was necessary. That’s happening now as the state agency analyzes roadway options, including improving the existing alignment or constructing new ones.
McKinney City Council members have passed a resolution opposing conversion of U.S. 380 within their borders into a freeway because development leaves little room for expansion.
Council members have said that they oppose bypass routes that would cut through people’s homes. But Fuller said now “everything is on the table.”
“Let’s see what has the least impact and benefits the community the best,” he said. “Those won’t be very popular words for some, but it is what it is. Ultimately, we have to do what’s best for this community today and tomorrow.”
Last year, McKinney city leaders suspended their own evaluation of options for a bypass and sent the options to TxDOT.
Raglon, the TxDOT spokeswoman, projected that five years from now is about the earliest construction might begin. She said there are no costs tied to the project and no funding for it past the feasibility study.
Additional public meetings are expected to take place in the fall.
“Before anybody knocks on my door to let me know they’re going to knock my house down, there will be a lot of discussion,” Voigt said. “I’m certainly not just going to hand them the keys.”