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Developers Silent On What 380 Expansion Should Look Like. They Just Want Something, Anything

There may be no more loaded question you can ask in Collin County, Texas, these days than “what alignment option do you support for expanding U.S. Highway 380?”

A roughly two-year study of how to expand the crowded Highway 380 artery in Collin County to suit a population of a million-plus and growing resulted in several different infrastructure proposals from the state, numerous meetings and protests from residents.

Developers have stayed mostly on the sidelines, though many are watching the process closely, recognizing a need for — and a commercial real estate benefit from — the expansion.

TxDOT's recommended 380 alignments

The Texas Department of Transportation recently capped off a yearlong debate by releasing its recommended Highway 380 alignment plan.

Despite the proposal being closer to final, opposing voices continue to push for alternatives.

The future of Highways 380 and 121 and the growing Collin County population will be discussed at Bisnow's What's Going On Along The 121? event Aug. 15.

The recommended TxDOT alignment preserves a portion of 380 running between Denton and McKinney, while also incorporating bypass routes to the north to deal with Collin County's growing population and traffic congestion.

“The plan that we came up with in May is the recommended alignment and TxDOT is hoping that as it goes through these different environmental studies that it ends up being the final plan, with maybe a few tweaks here and there,” TxDOT spokesperson Michelle Raglon said. 

McKinney National Airport

Still, McKinney City Council and Collin County's commissioners submitted alternate plans after TxDOT's alignment recommendation. McKinney Mayor George Fuller even took to Facebook to generate discussion while encouraging other options. 

Fuller wants the 380 roadway alignment to incorporate a thoroughfare that passes the east side of McKinney International Airport to accommodate the possibility of a future commercial passenger terminal on that side of the airport. 

The recommended plan from TxDOT incorporates a roadway entrance to the west of the airport, although TxDOT hasn't ruled out adjustments to the 380 alignment going forward, though it isn’t entirely open to broad changes, either. 

“We are going to use the best engineering process that we can use with the least amount of impacts for the entire community, and TxDOT has the final decision,” Raglon said. “We would hope that people would come to a consensus; there may have to be a few tweaks, but [we're] not changing the whole alignment.” 

Residents of McKinney earlier this year attended an open meeting to review Highway 380 Bypass options.

How Commercial Developers View The Highway 380 Alignment Controversy

Bernard Weinstein, an economist and associate director of Southern Methodist University's Maguire Energy Institute, believes roadways grow alongside populations, not the other way around.

“Dallas-Fort Worth has been the fastest-growing major metropolitan area in the country for most of the last 30 years,” said Weinstein, who previously studied the impact of the North Dallas Tollway project in North Texas. “Most of that growth has been to the north, north of Dallas and north of Fort Worth, and much of it is parallel to the road infrastructure.”

But it is a self-fulfilling cycle. Population creates demand for infrastructure, which spurs further growth.

“What we found is that without question those highways were drivers of growth in close proximity to their location,” he said. “As a rule, the closer you were to the toll roads, the faster the growth and the value of your property.” 

The future of 380 and its bypass options can open up more space to the north for development, a boon for commercial real estate professionals. But during the two years of fiery debate, developers remained relatively quiet about the 380 issue, with few taking a public stand for one plan over another. 

“I would say that there is definitely controversy, it is a sensitive issue, but I think there are valid points being made from all perspectives,” Craig International Inc. President of Commercial Brokerage James Craig said.

Through his own company's development and brokerage efforts in McKinney, Craig knows rapid commercial growth is coming to Collin County and that vehicular mobility through new infrastructure projects is often essential as communities grow the way McKinney has in recent years. TxDOT forecasts a 166% increase in the Collin County population between 2018 and 2040. 

Craig International, which initially grew under the guidance of his father, David Craig, saw firsthand how the Sam Rayburn Tollway fostered commercial development around Craig Ranch and other parts of McKinney. 

“It was a two-lane asphalt road, and it eventually became the Sam Rayburn Tollway and that is a game-changer,” Craig said. 

Highway 121 didn’t generate as much controversy during the construction years, but it is another example of how a new or expanded road eases the process of growth.

Rendering of Howard Hughes' Monarch City

The Howard Hughes Co. Senior Vice President of Development Mark Bulmash applauds any infrastructure build that will help attract corporate users to Collin County where his firm is working on its massive mixed-use project Monarch City in Allen. 

Allen recently approved zoning for Monarch City's 261-acre development. The site will eventually house 10M SF of office, residential, retail and hospitality space. 

“We are very excited about what we got [from the city in zoning],” Bulmash said. “It allows us the flexibility to meet the needs of an ever-changing user base to bring some really exciting out-of-state corporate users to this site as well as local ones, and to create this great master-planned mixed-use project.”

Bulmash said he supports infrastructure and roadway improvements if they create more immediate access to McKinney International Airport and the northern part of the county for Monarch City's end users. 

“If it makes it more desirable for people to live up there and come down here, that’s a huge positive,” he said. “Again, any improvements to the airport and accessibility to the airport is a huge positive for users of our site. It makes it more convenient.”

Whether 380 goes east or west of McKinney airport and exactly where the bypasses are placed are less important to these developers than one thing that is almost universally agreed on. 

“Regardless of one’s position, I don’t think anyone looking at it objectively can deny the fact that there’s a significant need for the 380 expansion,” Craig said.

The future of Highways 380 and 121 and the growing Collin County population will be discussed at Bisnow's What's Going On Along The 121? event Aug. 15.