Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Some dirt could be flying relatively soon."

Outer Loop route gets a green light

Collin County: Concerns voiced, but commissioners stress that highway project in early stages

December 14, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

McKINNEY – After years of discussion, Collin County commissioners decided this week where the Outer Loop highway project will be built.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the county's preferred route for the 45-mile project at a special public hearing Tuesday night. About 300 people attended the hearing, which lasted about 90 minutes.

Some residents at the hearing were concerned about the project's effect on the county's rural atmosphere, while others worried about the highway taking their property.

But the county needs to do something with 102 people moving into Collin County each day and 102 vehicles being registered each day, Commissioner Joe Jaynes said.

"We need to be planning ahead for the growth," he said, adding that the number of vehicles in the county will double in 20 years. "We have had four years of meetings on this, and people need to know where we are going with it."

As planned, the loop will start just south of Nevada at the Rockwall County line. It will run north to an area east of Blue Ridge. It will then veer to the west and run east-west across much of the northern part of the county, including Anna, Melissa, Weston and Celina. It eventually will connect to a Denton County road that will reach I-35E.

Regulating development

Although the highway won't be built for many years, choosing a route now allows the county and cities to regulate development along the path of the highway. It also helps them preserve the 500-foot-wide swath of land needed for the ultimate six-lane highway and six lanes of frontage roads. The swath also includes 100 feet for a future rail line.

The path still can – and probably will – have some minor changes.

After hearing from about 20 speakers concerned about the highway going right through their homes, commissioners encouraged county staffers to consider slightly shifting the route around some areas. Some speakers also warned that the project would lessen the rural feel of northern and eastern Collin County.

"I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles. This is not suburban LA, and I don't want it to be that way," Blue Ridge-area resident David Canfield told commissioners.

Commissioners tried to reassure concerned residents that the project is still a decade or two away from the first major phases of construction. It could take even longer before it becomes a major highway, they said.

"A lot of people think we are going to build another LBJ Freeway as soon as possible," Mr. Jaynes said. "That's not the case."

Able to negotiate

Commissioners likened the Outer Loop to the Bush Turnpike, which sat on the drawing board for decades before it was built. With the decision, the county is able to start negotiating with landowners.

Some dirt could be flying relatively soon. The first possible project – a two-lane road between U.S. Highway 75 and State Highway 121 – could be built in about five years, Mr. Jaynes said.

In addition, the state could speed up the project if it makes the Outer Loop part of the Trans-Texas Corridor, a toll road that will stretch from the Red River south to San Antonio.

That project calls for up to a 1,200-foot-wide swath to provide room for truck lanes, utility lines and rail lines.

"This may become a part of the Trans-Texas Corridor, but it is not going to have 1,200 feet of right of way," Commissioner Jack Hatchell said.

The decision shows that the commissioners continue to ignore the northeast section of Collin County, said Blue Ridge resident Leona Richardson. The third-generation Collin County resident said she's upset that she may eventually have to move.

"I hate that I have to give up my part of the county so that others can profit," she said.

Others at the meeting said they were happy with the decision because it will make their property more valuable. Seven years ago, Bill and Yvonne Stewart bought 15 acres on the east side of Highway 75 in Anna as an investment.

"It's going to make our land more valuable than it ever would have been with farming," Mr. Stewart said.


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co