ENNIS – Ennis city commissioners got their first look at the path of the second phase of the U.S. Highway 287 Bypass project during their meeting Monday night. The preliminary layout prepared by TxDOT was presented by City Manager Steve Howerton.

Presenting the three-stage layout, Howerton illustrated where the plan calls for additional right of way than originally planned. Howerton said the enlarged right-of-ways were probably due to changes in specifications since the original layout was prepared several years ago.

“Acquisition of additional right-of-way will likely have a fiscal impact on the city of Ennis, as the local sponsor,” Howerton said, saying the right-of way acquisition would be very expensive and at the cost of the city.

Howerton further presented a plan where retaining walls would be used to be able to retain the original right-of-ways.

“While somewhat increasing the cost of the project, these would greatly reduce the need of the additional right-of-way,” he said.

The city requested TxDOT to use the retaining walls so as to keep the proposed interchanges and access roads in the existing right-of-ways. 

The proposed right-of-way acquisition area at Ensign Road, Farm-to-Market 1183 and Sterilite Drive could impact Sterilite as well as other businesses.

“We want to have as little impact on these businesses as possible,” Howerton said.

Through his presentation, Howerton gave details on many features of the project, including the location of off and on ramps.

“I see no major design flaws in the preliminary layout for the U.S. Highway 287 Ennis Bypass, Phase II,” he said, saying the project is essential for the connection to the Interstate 45 corridor.  

This would be the second phase of a widening and improvement of the highway and the last segment to receive improvements.  

Howerton and Mayor Russell Thomas have previuosly expressed the need for the project’s completion, citing the highway as a major commerce route and the east to west hurricane evacuation route. Safety conditions, including road conditions and the need for the controlled intersections, also have played a part in the justification. 

Both Thomas and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Taylor thanked Howerton for his work and presentation recently made in Austin to express the need for the project’s continuation.

The second phase is from Interstate 45 to State Highway 34. Phase 1 is well under way and scheduled for a December 2012 completion.

Howerton said Monday night’s acceptance of the preliminary plan is the first step in a three-step process, with the final step to acquire funding.

“This could take awhile, possibly up to several years,” Howerton said.

The preliminary plan was unanimously approved by the commission.

In other action, the commissioners approved an action to establish two weekdays of 12 hours each for early voting: May 3 and May 10. The three commission seats held by Lola Searcy, Carolyn Frazier and Taylor were up for election but were uncontested. The only contested seat up for election is for city marshal. Incumbent John Erisman has one opponent, Daryl Spence.