Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.
The Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Board voted to move forward with public review and comment on a set of proposed amendments to the organization’s 2017-2020 Transportation Improvement Plan. This update would add improvements to the U.S. Highway 75 and U.S. Highway 82 intersection and secure funding for two projects aimed at closing “the gap” on U.S. Highway 75 and bring the entire roadway in the region to interstate standards.
That designation could open the door for additional federal funding to pay for roadway and safety improvements and be an attraction for businesses moving a lot of products in and out of the area.
“There is no doubt that Hwy. 75 is the spine of Grayson County,” County Judge Bill Magers said. “This will allow us to address the No. 1 chokepoint in the county and all of the Paris District.”
The news comes as the Texas Department of Transportation and Texas Transportation Commission proposed an amendment to its 10-year plans that would include $80.5 million in funding for the Hwy. 75 improvements. This followed the designation of portions of the highway as a critical freight corridor in Grayson County by the commission last month.
“I am excited to announce that that UTP has amendment was approved,” SDMPO Director Clay Barnett said. “It was approved with two toll road projects removed, but U.S. 75 was a part of it.”
For its entire length in Texas, including the connected Interstate 45 from Houston to Dallas, the highway meets all interstate standards and guidelines except for a small, three-and-a-half-mile stretch in Sherman. This project would bring this final piece up to the standards needed for it to be formally declared an interstate.
These three projects, with a combined estimated cost of $161.72 million, are slated to see work starting in 2020. These projects are among 12 projects in the plan from 2017 through 2020 with a total cost of $217 million.
Of these three projects, two involve the widening of the highway from four lanes to six. This would be split between two separate projects with one running from State Highway 91 to just south of Center Street, and the other running from there to FM 1417. A separate project, budgeted for $21.7 million, would see a reconfiguration of ramps and a widening of service roads along the intersection of Hwy. 75 and Hwy. 82.
A fourth project slated for 2020 would create a new roadway from the county line to FM 121 and would serve as the future service road for the extension of the Dallas North Tollway.
Once the widening projects begin sometime in 2020, the construction phase of the improvements is expected to last for about two years, Barnett said. The importance of adding these projects now is that officials can begin engineering and planning for the project ahead of time.
In May, the SDMPO approved an update to its planning documents that included the two widening projects, among other projects aimed at improving Hwy. 75. With this update, Barnett said, he was better able to better define the costs for the project and the funding mechanisms that will help finance the project.
With funding secured in the UTP, the focus is likely now to shift to securing local match funding for the project.
In anticipation for these improvements, the MPO had already secured or proposed $80.5 million using a combination of it’s discretional funds, a proposed local match, and TxDOT funding. For these projects, the region is expected to need to contribute about $12.75 million in local funding. Barnett said the city of Sherman has already committed to $4 million, reducing the expected need to $8.75 million.
In a separate item, improvements to FM 1417 will need $2 million in match funds.
Magers said this topic will likely be discussed in coming months as county officials work to draft a transportation plan for the major corridors in Grayson County.
“From my perspective, this is a greater part of the county-wide thoroughfare plan,” he said.
Implications of interstate designation
Officials said they have no definitive time frame for how long it would take for the highway to be designated as a interstate as there are many factors that go into the decision making on a federal and state level.
“However, I can tell you if we don’t do this, it will never be an interstate,” Magers said.
Before Hwy. 75 can be designated an interstate, Magers said, there are several steps that must be followed. One of these concerns that must be addressed is setting a terminus for the interstate.
During a meeting of the Grayson County Commissioners Court Tuesday, Magers said the state of Oklahoma is in the process of investing $175 million in bringing the roadway up to interstate standards near Calera. The concerns on finding a southern terminus deal with some of the Dallas suburbs that would have issue with having an interstate run through their region. As an alternative, the Collin County outer loop, FM 121 and the county line may be the natural terminus, Magers said.
Both Magers and Barnett said the designation as a interstate could have major implications for recruiting and retaining major businesses and employers.
“Many employers won’t even look at you unless you are on the interstate,” Magers said. “We aren’t even on the map unless we are on the interstate.”
With the designation as a interstate, Barnett said Hwy. 75 will be eligible for federal funds for which most other roadways are not eligible. As an interstate, the Hwy. 75 will be eligible for both federal and state funds, with these funds given at a nine-to-one ratio.
Through this, the MPO and other funding sources can instead shift funds that would previously be used on the roadway to other projects throughout the region, Magers said. Barnett agreed with this, but noted that the MPO’s funding in Hwy. 75 projects can be limited due to the scope.