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Plano Residents Fight Proposed Overpass

By Suzanne Sprague

PLANO – Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 Reporter: The population of Plano has tripled since 1980. More than 230,000 people now call this North Dallas suburb home. And sometimes, it seems as if all of them are taking the same route to work at the same time.

(Ambient sound of traffic)

Jim Cunningham, Old Shepard Place Resident: In the mornings, if you've made the commute south on Preston, particularly at Plano Parkway, the traffic is very, very heavy.

Sprague: Jim Cunningham is a resident of Old Shepard Place, a large community of upscale homes in West Plano. The bottlenecked intersection at Plano Parkway and Preston Road, where 12 lanes of traffic cross, is just southeast of his neighborhood. To alleviate congestion there, the City of Plano is considering constructing an overpass, which the state would pay for. The overpass would run east-west, taking drivers on Plano Parkway over Preston Road. But neither Cunningham, nor many of his neighbors, is pleased.

Cunningham: We have residents who live within our community whose backyards front where that overpass would be or whose front yards front on where this proposed overpass would be. Obviously, that has a negative impact on their quality of life. The noise factor. The pollution factor. Not to mention this invasion of privacy having this overpass directly in your front yard or your back yard.

Sprague: Drivers would access the overpass at another intersection just west of where Plano Parkway and Preston cross, and right where a Catholic church and school are located.

Margaret Agnello, President, Old Shepard Place Neighborhood Association: We really believe there's a huge safety issue there.

Sprague: Margaret Agnello is President of the Old Shepard Place Neighborhood Association.

Agnello: We just believe that if the traffic is moving that much faster over the overpass and down the ramp, that they're going to be going a whole lot faster than they're going now. And we really believe it's a disaster waiting to happen with the number of kids crossing the street on their way to school.

Sprague: Instead of building an overpass at Plano Parkway and Preston, Agnello and Cunningham have suggested widening the intersection. But some city officials, like Mayor Pro Tem Rick Neudorff, say that won't solve the traffic problem long-term.

Rick Neudorff, Mayor Pro Tem, City of Plano: If we end up with the overpass, it's the most efficient method of travel for the rest of the city and non-residents, but that one neighborhood is perhaps affected; and the other way, when there is no impact on those few homes in the neighborhood, the entire rest of the citizenry will be detained by slower traffic.

Sprague: Residents have also suggested that tunneling underneath the intersection would be a better way to alleviate traffic congestion. But the state Department of Transportation says an underpass is too expensive to build. Mark Ball is a spokesman for the Dallas office of TXDOT.

Mark Ball, Texas Department of Transportation: We have 79,000 miles of highway to be responsible for in the state of Texas; and it is better for us to stretch that taxpayer dollar building as many overpasses as we possibly can, which are more economical, than maybe building fewer underpasses, unless there is some financial participation from the community itself.

Sprague: On May 5th, residents of Plano will vote in a municipal bond election that sets aside one million dollars for the Plano Parkway and Preston intersection. These funds would be in addition to any transportation money from the State. The proposition does not specify which project will be built. However, one million is not enough to pay for the added costs of an underpass. And any improvements may be in vain, because even if the backed-up traffic at Plano Parkway and Preston is eased, drivers could still get stuck just a few traffic lights south.

Pat Evans, Plano City Council Member: What good does it do you to speed through the Preston and Plano Parkway intersection, just to be stopped immediately on the other side of it by all of the traffic problems at 190 and Frankfurt and Campbell?

Sprague: Plano City Councilwoman Pat Evans opposes the overpass. And, she emphasizes that there is no study that proves any solution is feasible. The city is waiting for the results of a private engineering study to be released next month. But Evans and many West Plano residents don't believe the study is looking at all the issues. So the neighborhood groups will appear before the City Council Monday night to ask that the study be expanded, leading to more questions, and likely more debates, over how Plano can cope with traffic congestion. For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.