For more than a year, residents in rural Collin County have worried about what a potential new freeway meant to relieve gridlock in busy northern suburbs could mean for their homes and land.
It remains a big question mark, as no one yet knows where — or even if — the highway will be built.
But residents and city leaders could have a better sense of what lies ahead after the Texas Department of Transportation unveils possible alignments during a public meeting Thursday in McKinney as part of the state agency’s early feasibility study for improvements to U.S. 380 through Collin County. Other meetings will follow Tuesday and May 3.
“Some people think it’s already a done-deal, and that’s not true at all,” TxDOT spokeswoman Michelle Raglon said. “We’re very early in the planning process.”
Since February 2017, residents fearful of a potential bypass north of U. S. 380 have packed McKinney City Council meetings, voicing a loud “no” to a highway that would cut through their homes and divide their neighborhoods.
“It’s all so hypothetical at this point that it’s hard to really have a real specific plan of action,” said resident Stephanie Weyenberg, who plans to attend Thursday’s meeting. “My burden is those of us that stand to lose our homes. I think most of them are aware and engaged.”
Weyenberg and her husband, Matthew, knew McKinney planned to convert the two-lane county road near their home in unincorporated Collin County into a six-lane thoroughfare. But they never anticipated a freeway.
The couple bought 5 acres and moved into a red brick one-story home just outside the city’s limits to live the country life.
But a bypass could mean a high-speed road slicing through their neighborhood. Last year, a city of McKinney sketch of possible road alignments was meant to guide the Texas Department of Transportation as it works to tackle the traffic that comes with the explosive growth in Collin County.
It also garnered a public outcry.
“Punishing homeowners by taking out homes, many homes, the way that McKinney did last year was just, I feel like, a very unfortunate, reactive city planning decision,” Weyenberg said of the sketches that drew residents to a packed council meeting in February 2017.
And this isn’t just a McKinney problem. Collin County is expected to double in size before 2030 and surpass the populations in Dallas and Tarrant counties with a population of more than 3.5 million by 2050. McKinney’s population of nearly 180,000 is projected to increase by 100,000 more residents 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 expected to see a lot of population growth. Improvements to Highway 380 are part of that project list.
The remaining 20 percent of funds would help pay for improvements on thoroughfares and city arteries that help feed traffic onto highways. Specifics are still being hammered out.
Collin County Judge Keith Self said the goal is to help solve some short-term transportation issues while also planning for the long-term roadway needs in the county.
“Throughout this process, we must maintain our focus on building a robust transportation network that can handle double our current population,” he wrote in this week’s newsletter to constituents.
According to McKinney traffic count estimates, more than 50,000 people a day drove at some point on U.S. 380 in 2015. Currently, 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 the city continues to look for ways to improve U.S. 380, including deceleration lanes, signal timing and turn lanes at intersections.
“We’re very focused on 380 and trying to make sure that folks can still travel it safely and get where they need to go,” he said.
But Quint said 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.
“It just happened so fast and so unexpectedly that we weren’t able to catch up. But I think we’re doing better jobs of that now,” he said, adding that finding a solution to U.S. 380 is just one step. The county needs to build out its arterial network, he said, and that means “smarter” and “more refined” traffic management.
Previously, McKinney council members 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. Previously, Mayor George Fuller has said the city wants to “absolutely preserve those neighborhoods.”
Council member Scott Elliott, who lives in a neighborhood that could be impacted by a bypass, campaigned against the plan while running for his seat last year and remains “against the bypass option as originally presented.” He said that he’s waiting to see what the transportation department proposes Thursday.
TxDOT has been “tight-lipped” about what options it plans to present this week and to McKinney’s City Council members on Monday, Quint said.
“At this point, we agree with the region that mobility, especially on 380, if we don’t do something will be a challenge in the near future, and so ultimately we will support whatever TxDOT comes down with,” he said.
Last year, McKinney city leaders suspended their own evaluation of options for a bypass and sent the options to TxDOT.
Raglon 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, adding that “doing nothing” also is on the table.
Weyenberg said her family talks daily about whether or not they should remain in their home or move. She said it will be difficult to sell their home if it is impacted by a new freeway.
“Kind of between a rock and a hard place right now,” she said.