ENNIS – More than 100 citizens and area officials attended a public information meeting for the proposed widening of the U.S. Highway 287 Bypass Thursday evening.

The public meeting was a joint effort between the Texas Department of Transportation and the city of Ennis to take comments from the public and provide information on the project.

Because an informal open house format was used, there were no formal presentations. Instead, representatives from TxDOT and Haliff Associates were on hand with diagrams and schematics of the widening project that will begin at Highway 34 and extend to where U.S. Highway 287 merges with Interstate Highway 45.

“We’re here tonight to hear the public’s comments and concerns of the project. The other purpose for tonight’s meeting is to inform the public how the highway will be improved and make traveling safer for the public traveling the area,” TxDOT Public Information Officer Lisa Walzl said.

“We’ve been waiting for more than 30 years for this project. The situation we have now is very unsafe,” Ennis City Manager Steve Howerton said. “What I look at are the unsafe conditions between Ensign Road and the highway,” Howerton said.

Joining Howerton in welcoming the participants was Ennis Mayor Russell Thomas.

“There have been serious accidents that have included some fatalities (on that stretch of road),” Thomas said.

Ellis County Commissioner for Pct. 2 Bill Dodson also attended the meeting.

“We need to see an improvement out there. But I’m also here to see that the people owning land along the right-of-ways are treated fairly,” Dodson said.

Representing the engineering firm of Haliff Associates was the Consultant Project Manager Jeremy McGahan. The highway project has a special purpose for McGahan. He is an Ennis native and graduated from Ennis High School.  

“It’s great to come back and be a part of a project that not only will benefit this city, but will be a major benefit for all who travel the segment of the highway. This is one of the most unsafe areas due to the high amount of truck traffic and the high speed of the traffic. For those traveling the highway that are not familiar with the roadway, it can be especially dangerous,” McGahan said.

Explaining how the traffic flow will be affected during the construction process McGahan said that this would be a fairly simple project; laying a direction lane next to the old highway. Then traffic will be moved over to the new portion for two-way travel while demolition of the old highway is done. Then the other lanes will be laid.

The project has already began with the early development and coordination processes, which began in May and June of 2013. The next step was the public meeting that was held Thursday.

“From the input and comments we receive tonight we will begin to refine our design and begin development of final design schematic,” Walzl said.

The proposed configuration will have a new thoroughfare with a four-lane divided highway with continuous two lane frontage roads. Access to the highway will be through controlled accesses by full diamond ramp configurations at Ensign Road and Sterilite Drive. The highway traffic will cross Highway 34, Ensign Road, Oak Grove Road, Sterilite Drive and Old Alma on overhead bridges.

The design, schematic approval, environmental study approval and right-of-way acquisition are scheduled to be completed in January 2016. The letting of the construction contracts and construction is scheduled for February 2016.

One of the many citizens in attendance was Elsie Marak.

“I’ve had family members injured out there and my mother’s cousin was killed at one of the intersections on the highway. I’m definitely ready for this to be done,” Marak said.  

“It’s all about the people, not only our local travelers, the Texas travelers as well that travel this highway. We do not want any more accidents especially those with injuries or fatalities,” Thomas said.