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287 Bypass construction delayed

Three deaths in a two-year period have occurred on U.S. Hwy. 287 Bypass, a two-lane thoroughfare with heavy traffic moving between Ennis’ northwest to southeast regions.
The number three may sound small, but when it reflects human lives it’s a surplus of tragedy.
From Jan. 1, 2003, to Dec. 31, 2005, Ennis police investigated and worked a total of 76 accidents along the bypass. During this time, 35 accidents resulted in injuries with 60 people injured and three killed. Another six deaths have been reported along the roadway since 1997, according to City Manager Steve Howerton.
Some theorize the large number of accidents on such a small stretch of road is a result of the hilly terrain combined with a lack of traffic signals and overpasses. Howerton said more than 11,460 vehicle travel the roadway per day.
It was first reported the City of Ennis would see construction to the highway as soon as November 2008, but as of August the project was postponed another year. The new bypass is referred to by Howerton as the “north segment,” and will stretch from the Ennis Airport at W. 287, past S. Hwy 34, to the vicinity of Ensign Rd. This phase of the work will be completed at an estimated cost of $20 million, Howerton said.
According to a revised Project Status Report from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) citing each stage of development for the project, the new forecast for a project letting date, which is contingent upon right-of-way clearance, utility relocation and availability of construction funding, is set for November 2009.
The projected schedule TxDOT released lists an Environmental Assessment (EA) in November 2007, pubic hearings to be held starting in January 2008, approval of right-of-way map in April 2008, approval of Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) the next month, completion of construction plans in June 2008 and right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation approximately 18 months following the FONSI.
The EA consists of review by TxDOT’s Environmental Affairs Division in Austin, revisions made to the design schematic and then being forwarded to the Federal Highway Administration for further processing. TxDOT Area Engineer Bill Pierce said the EA has taken about six months longer than expected.
Pierce said TxDOT is taking an aggressive approach to the right-of-way process, but the November 2008 schedule was a best-case scenario.
“When I give a best-case scenario, that’s just what it is,” Pierce said. “This is what I think. We’re still going to keep our eye on the ball of the original date. I’m not disregarding that original project date.”
Understanding the danger of letting the bypass construction project slip to a later date, Howerton has set out to find support in Ennis and Texas to fast track completion of construction on Hwy. 287 Bypass. Besides sending a resolution from Mayor Russell Thomas on behalf of the City, Howerton has also found support from the Ennis Chamber of Commerce, which adopted a similar resolution. Howerton said he has asked the Ennis Independent School District to lend its support to speed construction of the bypass. Requests for assistance have also been made to State Representative Jim Pitts, State Senator Kip Averitt, Congressman Joe Barton and U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn.
“This is not a new problem,” Howerton said in a letter to Pierce.
“It is imperative that safety issues be promptly addressed on the U.S. 287 Ennis Bypass.”
Howerton is requesting TxDOT construct grade separated intersections at each intersecting road on the bypass.
In the resolution it is stated more than $408.6 million has been invested from the City of Ennis and industrial and commercial concerns adjacent to the bypass in the past eight years and much greater investment is anticipated. Such investments include the new hospital built at the southeast intersection of the bypass and Lampasas St.
According to Howerton, the City of Ennis has met its requirements of the local match for the bypass construction project, which consisted of an access road constructed at a cost of $1.27 million.
Pierce said the Ennis highway has become more than just a four-lane bypass due to the growth Ellis County is experiencing.
Pierce said the bypass was originally built to relieve congestion downtown from large trucks going through Ennis.
“(The bypass) has always been on our radar screen as something we are going to have to go back and finish,” Pierce said. “It has gone from a $16 million project to about a $50 million.”
Pierce said the state has decided to break the project up into two parts and start from Hwy. 34 and go north.
“We’ve never had complete funding for it,” Pierce said.
“We’ve got about $10 million set aside right now, but we still need another $15 million.”

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Posted by on Oct 31 2007. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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