Kelly Simpson went to the Texas Department of Transportation meeting last week to learn about the proposed lane expansion for FM 1387. She left in tears.
It was during that meeting that the Midlothian resident learned that nearly a quarter of her backyard could be acquired for the project's development.
As part of the preliminary stages of planning, TxDOT officials held a public hearing last Friday in the cafeteria at Midlothian Heritage High School. The proposed project could widen FM 1387 from a two-lane rural road to a six-lane urban roadway by 2022. Over 259 residents checked in to the hearing, with the total amount of individuals recorded at 286 attendants.
After residents were guided through the preliminary designs and overview for the project, they were directed to a commentary box where they could write and submit their feedback directly to the project planners.
TxDOT Public Information Officer Donna Simmons said comments received by residents could make all of the difference on how this project develops going forward.
“Everybody in this room is passionate about something, or they wouldn’t be here,” Simmons said. “If they don’t speak up now and make their wishes known, it will continue on that path.”
According to design proposals, the project consists of one 12-foot-wide travel lane, one 14-foot-wide shared-use lane, two-foot-wide offsets and five-foot-wide sidewalks stretching from FM664 to North Midlothian Parkway. The roads would be divided by one 16-foot median and would require about 52 acres of right-of-way.
According to a TxDOT crash report, 22 accidents happened on FM 1387 in 2016 and 31 occurred in 2017. So far this year, 26 wrecks have occurred with on resulting in a fatality.
Simmons said the department programs its developments based on its traffic count, which can be accessed through the department’s planning page at www.txdot.gov. According to the 2016 Dallas district traffic maps, an average of 4,873 vehicles travel across FM1387 per day, and that number is only expected to go up in the upcoming years.
“What they say here, now today can make a difference,” Simmons explained.
The preliminary sketches show that construction would go over one hundred resident’s' properties — from land to roadways to a few houses. While the exact number of homes affected is unavailable, the department did offer relocation assistance options for residents affected by displacement, including reimbursement for moving costs and being expensed for a comparable residency replacement.
While some residents questioning how much of a difference one public comment card can make on the project, Simmons stressed that residents have a more significant impact than they might expect.
“For instance, you can scoot a right-of-way six feet,” Simmons explained. “That can mean the difference between somebody’s property and somebody’s home. This is where we can make that decision.”
Upon attending the public hearing, some residents softened their stance on the project and were more receptive once planners explained why the expansion was necessary to meet the city’s growth.
“It needs to happen,” resident Kurt Kluth said. “We all agree on that.”
Nevertheless, many residents remained divided on how the project would affect their properties. Resident Ronnie Russell, for instance, took issue with how the median extended half a mile from Legacy Estates to Black Champ Road.
“I’m a developer,” Russell explained. “I understand what it costs to put a curve in. I understand what it costs to put six, eight inches of concrete. The cost is a wash. Now if it’s a safety issue, I’m going to debate with anybody on the safety issue on this area right here. You could make it 20 miles an hour. We don’t care. What we need is access to both directions.”
Kluth, meanwhile, took issue with the size of a 16-foot median. He said they should downsize the median so fewer houses and properties can be displaced.
“When a main road, 287, is four lanes, you also have 67 that’s four lanes, and they’re wanting to make six lanes in the middle of nowhere that doesn’t go anywhere,” Kluth questioned. “I think they’re overdoing it, just a little overkill.”
Kelly Simpson got dealt a significant blow at the hearing. A Midlothian resident for 18 years, Simpson said she came to the meeting when she saw a notice for the project development.
When she approached the tables mapping out an overview for the project, she realized that the plan would cut through almost an acre of her backyard.
“This is my home,” she soberly expressed. “This is my barn. I didn’t know how much property they were taking in until just now.”
After a project planner outlined the preliminary designs for her, Simpson inquired to see if there was any way to reduce that land acquisition.
She said they didn’t seem very sympathetic to her concerns.
“He didn't really want to answer too many questions,” she explained. “Someone else said the same thing. I’m a researcher by trade. I’ll do my research. I’ll write my letter, and figure it out from there.”
Simpson said she understands why they need the expansion for a growing community. She doesn’t understand why it has to come at her expense.
“I get the progress,” she emphasized. “I get Midlothian Heritage High School. I know all about us becoming the community that we need to be. But at what cost?”
THE NEXT STEP
Since the project is so early in the preliminary stages, Simmons said now is the best time to submit your feedback because it gives the department a direction to go.
“The best thing about these meetings is that there’s no shovel in the ground yet,” she explained. “TxDOT starts so far back getting input, meeting people that are affected now. This is the only time it can be changed. Because once we start construction, it’s not going to change.”
Russell said he hopes resident’s comments will be taken seriously as the department continues to design and plan the proposal. If they don’t, however, Russell is ready for a legal battle.
“I’ll go to battle for this thing either way,” he expressed. “The area needs it. It needs something, but there has to be a certain amount of practicality and common sense that goes with this. You’ve gotta make it work for the people. You devalue my property? I’m going to fight you. You’d do the same thing if I went to your house and did the same thing.”
Overall, Russell said he’s grateful to have attended the public hearing because it put into perspective what’s at stake.
“I had a three-page letter,” he explained. “Now that I’ve seen this, it’s going to be about four and a half pages.”
TxDOT will take public comments up through Sept. 14. Any comments postmarked afterward will not be considered in the project’s proposal. Residents can email comments to the project manager at Rakhshanda.Mahar@txdot.gov or mail them to P.E., 4777 E. Highway 80, Mesquite, TX 75150-6643.
David Dunn, @DavidDunnInTX