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TxDOT mulls controversial road extension in Denton Co.

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: Three egrets and a blue heron soar over wetlands here at the western edge of Lake Lewisville. Just a few hundred feet back are Highland Village's upscale homes. More than 13-thousand people live in this community. Ten years ago, it was half that. If officials in Denton County and other nearby towns get their way, this wooded overlook will be paved with a four-lane bridge.

Paul LeBon, Stop 2499 Coalition: You'll have traffic coming along here, and if you look at the I-35 bridge, and the banks there, they're littered with trash and debris and junk, so that's going to have a real negative impact on this end of the lake.

Zeeble: Paul LeBon is a Highland Village resident leading the coalition to stop the proposed five-mile-or-so extension of Farm-to-Market Road 2499. Sitting in his kitchen, where he spent a lot of time creating his coalition, he says he's also worried about the road's proposed cost that'll exceed 20 million, mostly federal, dollars.

LeBon: This money's being wasted on a narrow road that'll only be overcrowded and overburdened and we have numerous other roads that are extremely dangerous and aren't scheduled to be worked on or addressed until 2008, 2009, or 2010. We're saying use the money for those roads and help ease gridlock that currently exists.

Zeeble: LeBon further argues that 2499's extension is really a way to create access to hundreds of acres landowners can't wait to build on, once roads they don't have to pay for get built. But Highland Village resident and former City Council member Jim Attrell, who wants the extension, likes the idea.

Jim Attrell, Pro-2499: Anywhere in American where there's prosperity, it's because someone in government decided to build a road. That's what's happening here. In 1949, our state created fm roads for economic prosperity. That's what this road will help us do, in terms of taxes.

Zeeble: Attrell and Highland Village Mayor Bill Lawrence maintain that the key aim of this road remains improved mobility for the rapidly growing Highland Village and surrounding communities.

Bill Lawrence, Mayor, Highland Village: If you see growth will exceed capacity to handle traffic, you don't wait until it happens. You start putting a road in place now, so when you get to that level, you don't have the problem. It's prudent management, if you know you're going to have growth like this - 99% growth since 1990 - you'd plan ahead. This is just part of our planning ahead.

Zeeble: The design extends 2499 along county-owned land running behind nearly a hundred Highland Village homes. Where the land currently dead-ends, the road will extend north to Corinth, crossing the wetlands than passing a stone's throw away from Michael Gargiulo's new home. Gargiulo says he has no problem with the road's extension, just its particular path.

Jim Gargiulo, resident, Denton County: Instead of having birds and crickets and frogs and ducks, I'll have 18-wheelers. The road will come up to the property line of this whole neighborhood in the back. It's a shame.

Zeeble: Road proponents, like Mayor Lawrence and Jim Attrell, maintain the benefits will far outweigh the negatives.

Mayor Lawrence: I feel for citizens most directly impacted, but the road has been noticed on notice I don't know for how long. Unfortunately, a number of citizens will be directly impacted cause they're right along the road. It's unfortunate there'll be some short-term negative impacts.

Attrell: Not to sound cold, but people will have four to five years to choose whether they want to see what the road looks like and move - or to decide to stay.

Zeeble: Or the state's Department of Transportation, holding tomorrow's hearing, can kill the project if too many concerns raised by citizens go unanswered. Opponents are hoping for a big turnout as they try to stop the project. Proponents also expect a large turnout in favor of extending 2499. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.

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