After hours of interviews and discussions Wednesday, the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Planning Organization announced the finalists for a contract to draft a county-wide thoroughfare plan. The document will outline and describe roadway infrastructure conditions throughout Grayson County at full build out and urbanization.

Members of the SDMPO technical advisory committee announced Wednesday afternoon that consulting firm Huitt Zollars will be the first choice for the contract. Freese & Nichols and Walter P. Moore rounded out the top three choices for the contract.

“It was extremely close between the consultants but Huitt Zollars came out on top by a marginal amount,” SDMPO Director Clay Barnett said Wednesday. “The consensus was that they had a much better understanding on demographics, land use and traffic modelling, which made the difference.”

Barnett said this planning document will help the SDMPO plan for future roadway conditions in the county as development and growth move into the county from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Among the projects that will likely be outlined in the plan are proposed upgrades to the U.S. Highway 75 corridor and the proposed extension of the Dallas North Tollway.

“This plan will give us a framework to form a cohesive system of roadways for the county at full construction,” he said.

Barnett said the SDMPO and other organizations have drafted similar plans in the past, however many of these documents were incomplete or focused on specific areas of the county. As an example, Barnett said a previous SDMPO plan had discrepancies with a city thoroughfare plan submitted by the cities of Howe and Van Alstyne. In the event of development, this could lead to issues between the two entities, he said.

“Their map says one thing while ours says something completely different,” Barnett said.

Last Friday, Barnett announced plans to conduct interviews with firms that responded to a request for qualifications that was sent out earlier this year. The request was sent to nine firms, and four firms that have previously worked with the SDMPO or its member cities responded.

Huitt Zollars has previously worked with the city of Sherman on road plans and is currently contracting with Denison on an update to its comprehensive plan. Freese & Nichols also worked with the city of Sherman on a storm water utility study.

John Ho, who will be leading the project for Huitt Zollars, said the group has done similar projects in the past including work on a Collin County mobility plan that required similar modelling work.

“I know the other firms are very reputable and we go head to head with them from time to time,” he said. “Sometimes we win, sometimes they win. So I think we were very lucky with this.”

Edmund Haas, representing Freese & Nichols, said he was confident about the interviews, describing them as an interactive, back-and-forth conversation.

“I feel we answered all their questions with our presentation,” he said.

The SDMPO has never worked officially with Walter P. Moore, however the organization has worked with consultants who have since joined the firm. These include consultants who previously worked on the SDMPO’s Metropolitan Transportation Plan, a 25-year planning document.

“I think the MPO has a lot of good concerns about growth and the pressures of growth on the county,” Rob Rae, representing Walter P. Moore, said. “The preparation for that is going to be important.”

When asked how this plan compares to previous work with the SDMPO, Rae said the two documents have similar scale but a different focus.

“The MTP plan was fiscally constrained, meaning you can only plan for the roads you have money for,” he said. “This plan, however, is not.”

Jacobs Engineering, the firm that was not chosen as a finalist, has worked with the SDMPO on its ongoing plan for upgrades to U.S. Highway 75.

Recent budget documents for the SDMPO listed a budget of $216,000 for the project with a secondary $65,000 item for modelling work that will take place alongside the plan. Barnett noted that this budget also includes his own fees for his work as the SDMPO director on the project.

Barnett said he plans to schedule a meeting with the SDMPO Policy Board Monday so that he can be authorized to negotiate a contract with the final three firms, giving preference to Huitt Zollars. This action would allow him to enter into negotiations with the other two finalists if a contract cannot be reached with Huitt Zollars.