MIDLOTHIAN — Massive maps were unrolled and Ellis County got a first look last week at two routes for Loop 9, a proposed six-lane toll-road that would run east and west across north Ellis County.
Texas Department of Transportation engineers and project administrators hosted a public meeting at the Midlothian Conference Center to allow property owners and area residents to look at initial plans for the project and ask questions about the estimated $1.8 billion, 44-mile project that could see right-of-way acquisition begin in two years.
“What we are showing this evening are two alternative routes and we are seeking public input on which would be the best route,” said Mike Nesbitt, Loop 9 project manager. “We are also seeking input on what we are call-ing ‘no-build.’ That would be for the state to build nothing.”
Local property owners and residents gathered around two 20-foot-long maps that showed a northern and southern route. The project begins north of Seagoville and heads south before turning west and moving north of Ferris, Red Oak, Ovilla and Midlothian.
Both the northern and southern alternative have the proposed highway crossing U.S. Highway 67 North near Skyline Acres and U.S. Highway 287 West near Padera Lake.
“We have a number of milestones on this project,” said Nesbitt. “We will have a final series of public hearings in a year and should obtain a record of decision in about two years. At that point we would begin obtaining right-of-way.”
Nesbitt said if the project moves ahead the state would break ground on Loop 9 in four years and vehicles could be driving on it by 2015.
The project also has to obtain environmental and design approval before any of that happens.
Nesbitt urged residents to contact local and state leaders with their concerns. He also urged people to look at the maps, plans and information at www.Loop9.org.
Loop 9 is not the Trans-Texas Corridor, although highway officials have repeatedly said Loop 9 could take a similar track as the proposed TTC. Loop 9 is also being designed and proposed as a feeder-road to the TTC should it be built.
Loop 9 will be a toll-road. Being a private project has allowed the process to move faster than a state or federal construction project that has to wait on government dollars.
The Midlothian meeting was the second of two public meetings this month. The first meeting was held at Seagoville High School on Jan. 16.
Nesbitt said the idea of a major highway encircling the Metroplex is not new.
The Greater Dallas Planning Council first identified the concept of an outer loop freeway around the Dallas metropolitan area in 1964. In 1968, the Texas Highway Commission authorized this outer loop around Dallas and designated it as part of the highway system to be known as Loop 9.
The project languished for a number of years. Nine months ago TxDOT was told to develop plans to build and complete the project in 20 years. The southern sector, which would impact Midlothian, would probably be built first.
TxDOT has joined Dallas County as a partner in completing the draft environmental impact statement by December 2006. Due to the work already completed on the study, the region — and especially southern Dallas County cities — may be able to capitalize on an opportunity to get the project built faster as a potential connector to the Trans-Texas Corridor-35.
“The southern link is the farthest along,” said Eddie Haas, project manager for Parsons Transportation Group. “We expect a decision by 2008 from the federal government on its support from the project. At that point TxDOT would get right-of-way and we would go to work.”
Following direction from the task force, the proposed corridor has changed from a parkway configuration to a facility with three toll lanes and two to three access lanes in each direction within a 430-foot right-of-way. The study consultant, Parsons, is conducting detailed investigation of conceptual design changes and of corridor connectivity and operations.
Parsons is refining the original alignments to reflect the TxDOT requirement of 85 mph design specifications.
“It will not be posted for 85-mph,” Haas said. “But the curves and exits will be engineered and designed to 85-mph speeds.”
Engineers are designing the route so it will cross highways 67 and 287 at right angles.
Loop 9 has two projected paths. The southern-most path would cross Holcim quarry.
Holcim officials have pointed out Holcim has owned that quarry for 20 years and infringing on the quarry could reduce the plant’s lifespan as much as 10 years.
Midlothian Mayor Boyce Whatley said the project could define Midlothian’s northern border and fuel economic growth and development.
“The frontage roads have the potential for economic development as do the interchanges - of which we could have two,” Whatley said. “We are looking at how this affects our ETJ with Cedar Hill and what areas are currently in the city limits and what areas are strictly county.”
Developers are already snapping up property along the proposed route.
The Loop 9 Feasibility and Route Alignment Study was authorized in 1995. The limits of the study corridor were defined as the proposed extension of State Highway 360 in Ellis County to Interstate 20 in Mesquite.
The North Central Texas Council of Governments initiated a similar effort for the corridor continuing west of Highway 360 to beyond Interstate 35W near Crowley.
In 1997, study efforts resulted in a “technically preferred alignment” that was approved and/or adopted by many of the cities and agencies involved in the study. However, due to some problems with the preferred alignment, study efforts were suspended before a “locally preferred alignment” was identified.
The present day Loop 9 study picks up where previous study efforts left off, studying the original alignments as well as newly identified alignments, and incorporating new federal mandates pertaining to the development of an environmental impact statement.