WAXAHACHIE — A second public hearing on the proposed $17.2 million viaduct expansion and rebuild along US Highway 77 is slated for Thursday evening at the Waxahachie Civic Center. The open forum, which takes place roughly one year after the initial hearing, will focus on the impact the project will have on Waxahachie Creek Hike and Bike Trail, along with any potential effects on wildlife in the area.

The bulk of the 0.8-mile widening and reconstruction project of roadway stretching from south of FM 66 to just north of McMillian Street near historic downtown Waxahachie focuses on a dual-bridge concept to replace the current two-lane viaduct.

According to an announcement for the Jan. 24 hearing issued by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the project “involves demolition and replacement of the existing US 77 viaduct with a northbound bridge and construction of a new parallel bridge to the west of the viaduct for southbound traffic.” The project also plans to reconstruct areas near Elm and Monroe Streets to “provide a couplet system that would tie into the proposed bridges.”

As explained by an environmental assessment originally drafted by TxDOT in Dec. 2016, after considering a rehabilitation of the existing bridge, TxDOT found that the “build alternative” would best meet the community’s need for “increased capacity and provide for long-term management of future traffic needs throughout the region. Additionally, the build alternative would upgrade the existing infrastructure to meet current FHWA and TxDOT design standards for highways and viaducts, in addition to improving roadway safety.”

However, are two right-of-way or displacement impacts to the chosen path.

According to Appendix F of the 2016 TxDOT assessment, both consequences would result from approximately 0.14 acres in driveway easement, and a portion of 3.8 acres of land acquired, that could affect three businesses and two industrial buildings for a total of seven structures. The other part of the 3.8 acres of land will change the structure of, and wildlife around, the city’s hike-and-bike trail near downtown Waxahachie. The businesses potentially impacted include Los Tapatios, two buildings at Mike Moya Tire Shop, two buildings at Cabinet Specialist, and two industrial structures.

"While impacts to project area communities would occur, primarily in the form of business displacements and changes in access and travel patterns, these effects would not be expected to be substantial,” the 2016 assessment states. “Direct adverse impacts to the character or cohesion of project area communities would not be expected.” The document continues by explaining the businesses, if needed and based on a search of “several real estate websites, would “be able to find appropriate sites to relocate nearby due to the amount of commercial property available in the project vicinity.”

The second impact, which the most recently issued TxDOT hearing announcement states will be highlighted Thursday, is the plan for the remaining 3.8 acres of land beneath the new bridges and a permanent change to approximately 0.42 acres of the hike-and-bike trail. The land will be acquired under the Federal Uniform Relocation and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970.

"The 0.42 acres of land would be acquired as ROW because of the bridge overhead. However, the park below would continue to function as a trail once construction is complete,” the TxDOT assessment reads. “[…] Park access would be temporarily interrupted during construction, but continued access under the proposed bridges would be provided after construction interruptions are complete. During construction, the trail path will be rerouted.”

As for the wildlife in the area, a study conducted by TxDOT and in accordance with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), found 54 species of wildlife that could potentially inhabit the area during a calendar year.

However, during two visits — the first on August 31, 2015, and other May 5, 2016 — TxDOT officials observed only eastern fox squirrels, blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, mourning dove, barred owl, yellow-bellied water snakes, red-eared sliders, crawfish, and the common carp.

According to the assessment, the construction and land acquisition “may impact three state-listed threatened species and three Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the study area. TxDOT would complete mussel surveys for the Texas heel splitter and Louisiana pig toe, and conduct any necessary coordination with TPWD and implement the associated [best management practices] prior to and during construction. The build alternative would not affect any of waters of the U.S., including wetlands.”

It was concluded that, after finding no significant impact, the build alternative is “necessary for safe and efficient travel within the study area and the larger region.”

“The Build Alternative would not have a significant impact or cause indirect effects on the human or natural environment,” reads the recommendation section of the 2016 assessment. “Unless significant impacts are identified during the public review period or at the public hearing, a ‘Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)’ is recommended for the proposed action.”

According to TxDOT, the project is expected to carry a total cost of $17,206,012 with approximately $13.1 million slated for construction costs and $2.45 million used for right-of-way purchases.

The formal hearing, which is being conducted in English only, is Thursday, Jan. 26 at 6 p.m. in the Waxahachie Civic Center. TxDOT officials will have construction displays for viewing at 6 p.m. Documents pertaining to the project can be inspected at the TxDOT Dallas District Office, located at 4777 East Highway 80 in Mesquite, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. — 5 p.m. or online at www.keepitmovingdallas.com.

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Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith

(469) 517-1470