As the Texas Department of Transportation plans to eventually elevate sections of freeway in the overhaul of U.S. Highway 75 through Sherman, the agency unveiled possible designs this week for an alternative to the current pedestrian bridge which spans the thoroughfare and connects to Piner Middle School.

The designs were recently presented to the Sherman Independent School District’s board of trustees as part of an ongoing, plan to bring Hwy. 75 up to interstate safety standards between FM 1417 in Sherman and FM 120 in Denison. TxDOT Sherman-area Engineer Aaron Bloom and representatives of Dallas-Fort Worth-based engineering firms presented two main options that included a level walking path that would run underneath the freeway once all main lanes are elevated, as well as a network of sidewalks and signals that would reroute bridge users to established crossings at Houston Street and Washington Street. No action was ultimately taken by the school board.

“We’re having to raise the main lanes of (Hwy.) 75 significantly to solve some of the project issues, including the flooding,” IEA Project Engineer Bryan Alldredge said. “With that, the raised pedestrian bridge doesn’t function.”

Sherman ISD Director of Communications Kimberly Simpson said at least 50 Piner students use the bridge to get to and from the campus each day. Students using the current bridge must walk across the frontage road on the west side of Hwy. 75, before taking the bridge over the freeway lanes and the northbound frontage road. The bridge’s ramp ends along Pecan Street.

With short entry ramps and flooding cited as the greatest points of public concern over Sherman’s stretch of Hwy. 75, Alldredge said the current plans are to elevate the freeway, thereby clearing a space underneath the raised lanes that could then be utilized.

“Students going west would go across the northbound frontage road, go under the U.S. (Hwy.) 75 main lanes, which will all be on a bridge right there,” Alldredge said. “Then they would cross the southbound frontage road. This system would have a series of signals students can use to alert traffic.”

HALFF Associates Engineer Dean Stuller said with the sub-freeway crosswalk design still taking pedestrians across the frontage road, a specialized High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk or HAWK beacon would be installed on both sides.

“Once someone pushes a button, much like you’d see at a typical crosswalk, it would start to activate that signal,” Stuller said. “If you’re on the frontage road, you’re then going to see a flashing yellow light. After that, it goes to a solid yellow light and then it goes to a solid red light. That’s when pedestrians will get a walk notification letting them know they start proceeding across the frontage road.”

Engineers said lighting would be installed to light the path and school zones would be established along the frontage roads. Bloom said project engineers would explore ways to divert runoff and flood water from the crossing area, but flooding remained a possibility with the design.

“That is one constraint of the project,” Bloom said. “Obviously you have Post Oak Creek and East Post Oak Creek there along (Hwy.) 75.”

The other option pitched focused on a revised system of sidewalks that would take pedestrians to the nearest existing crosswalks on West Houston Street and West Washington Street. Alldredge said the system would only add a quarter mile and five minutes of walking.

“The alternative of sending them down to the cross streets is probably the safest option because it’s a fully signalized intersection,” Alldredge said. “Students will have the typical stoplights that they’re used to, cross the frontage roads as the signs say to and then proceed accordingly.”

No firm completion date for the projects was stated at the meeting, but engineers said early-phase projects within the large Hwy. 75 update could be completed by September 2019. TxDOT is set to hold another public hearing on improvement plans on Sept. 6.