Here’s your first look at TxDOT’s decision on best option for U.S. 380 revamp in Collin County
The Texas Department of Transportation on Monday unveiled its map to revamp U.S. Highway 380 through Collin County — a milestone in attempts to end the years-long traffic jam on 33 inadequate miles of roadway.
But from what I saw on Monday — and from the rancor I’ve heard over recent months — don’t expect this plan to ease the nasty gridlock of public opinion.
The recommended alignment would widen the existing Highway 380 from the Denton County line to Coit Road then incorporate three bypasses off the existing roadway. One will go east of Prosper to west McKinney. Another bypass will run north of Princeton. And the third will be routed south of Farmersville.
The state also plans to expand the existing highway in two sections east of McKinney — between the county seat and Princeton and between Princeton and Farmersville.
The long debate over the future of the highway, one of the few east-west routes in fast-growing Collin and Denton counties, has divided cities against each other and stressed out residents and businesses. Along the way, TxDOT has vetted almost 15,000 public comments —many of them focused on where to widen the road and where bypasses are needed.
TxDOT, which will detail its preferred realignment during a series of community meetings this week, will now take its cues for any possible changes to the route from environmental reports and other technical evaluations. Barring some unforeseen development, TxDOT will now only tweak, rather than overhaul, the proposal.
That means that while the shouting is far from over, push-back from the public or municipal leaders almost certainly won’t make much difference.
The planners had a difficult road to get to this point. No one is prone to sympathy for monolithic state agencies, but I do feel a bit of TxDOT’s pain after following this project for almost a year. Spend even a little time on U.S. 380 or visit with residents of McKinney and Prosper, where the stakes — and tensions — are highest, and you’ll get a sense of the competing interests and the sheer size of the opposing sides.
Everyone wants a better east-west route, but — no surprise here — only if that new concrete doesn’t disturb their lives or livelihood.
While TxDOT doesn’t talk “winners and losers,” the many Prosper residents who wanted to see the existing highway widened between their city and McKinney likely will be among the most unhappy with TxDOT’s bypass decision.
In contrast, Raytheon, one of McKinney’s largest employers, must be breathing a sigh of relief that Highway 380 won’t be expanded at the front of its campus. Because so many of its contracts require national security clearance, any disruption to the property would mean a redo on scores of contracts.
But residents pulling for the bypass options also will be glad to see that TxDOT went with a plan that leaves ManeGait Therapeutic Horsemanship untouched. Public comment helped identify this nonprofit as an operation whose vulnerable clients — children and military veterans — would be shaken by a move.
Given the congested mess that Highway 380 has become — with development multiplying the local population and strangling the too-small-for-too-long roadway — no plan could possibly please everyone. TxDOT’s best way forward was to come up with sturdy engineering decisions that, segment by segment, disrupted the fewest possible people and properties.
TxDOT spokeswoman Michelle Raglon said it’s no surprise that not everyone agrees on the roadway’s footprint, but “we’re planning for future needs, not just today.”
State highway planners emphasized during briefings with local leaders Monday that their aim is to reduce congestion not just on U.S. 380 but to ease gridlock on city streets and bigger roadways affected by the highway’s traffic.
It doesn’t take a transportation expert to see how the Highway 380 breakdown came about: As the development march began years ago, you have to wonder why in the world these cities and counties didn’t enforce setbacks to prepare for growth that clearly would only mushroom.
It’s common sense that cities grow around highways. But not all local governments are proactive in protecting road corridors.
Frisco, which always seems to think ahead, conserved land around both the Dallas North Tollway and U.S. 380. But only in 2016 did the Collin County Commissioners Court identify Highway 380 as a priority roadway project in need of TxDOT’s study.
The Collin County piece of the Highway 380 overhaul affects eight cities and runs roughly from its intersection with the Dallas North Tollway in Frisco to east of Farmersville.
That’s a lot of partners who have to play nice with each other to get this project done. Yet contention, not cooperation, has too often been the prevailing narrative, both with the cities themselves as well as residents and business owners.
Just weeks before TxDOT’s planned route unveiling, McKinney took the go-it-alone approach and sent its own proposed alignment — with a new northern bypass proposal — to the North Central Council of Governments, which is another player in the deal.
Plodding along through all the city-against-city drama, TxDOT has spent the last year meeting with stakeholders and receiving expert evaluations to narrow its spaghetti-bowl’s worth of options to five and then to two. After a detour through a few final tweaks this spring, the agency arrived at this week’s decision.
Each segment of the final plan includes a comprehensive, if mind-numbing, evaluation matrix that takes into account cost, residential and business impact or displacement, traffic numbers, park parcels, regional congestion, watershed challenges and more.
But no traffic relief is in store anytime soon; dirt won’t fly for six to 10 years.
Environmental studies, the next step in the process, will take one to two years to complete, others two to four. After those wrap up, design schematics are next. Then construction plans, cost estimates and utilities coordination. Finally, phased construction. Completion of the total project could be 20 years away.
Collin County Commissioner Duncan Webb often tells other stakeholders that he’s less concerned about which route prevails than he is that this road gets built sooner than later. Judging by the hyper-granular questions I heard other local leaders asking at TxDOT’s Mesquite headquarters Monday, not everyone sees the big picture.
TxDOT and the cities need to make sure they get the details right. But let’s just hope the state doesn’t take its money and run to another project while Collin County bickers over a decision already made.
Upcoming community meetings
In addition to Monday night’s meeting in McKinney, TxDOT plans two more public presentations:
6-8 p.m. Tuesday: Princeton High School, 1000 E. Princeton Dr., Princeton 75407.
6-8 p.m. Thursday: Rogers Middle School, 1001 Coit Road, Prosper, TX 75078.