The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot) held an open-house meeting Tuesday night at Anna Middle School to present its plans for the reconstruction and widening of State Highway 5. An interested public filled the school cafeteria to view aerial maps and construction plans and to get information on state purchasing of right of ways and relocation assistance.

The project calls for work to be done on approximately nine miles of road stemming from Hwy. 121 in Melissa north to CR 375 at the Collin/Grayson county line. Officials state that the completed highway will be a four-lane, divided highway with an 18- to 42-foot wide raised center median and should include left-turn and right-turn lanes at designated locations and a 14-foot wide outside lane to accommodate bicyclists with 5- to 6-foot sidewalks in both directions.

For those not familiar with an open-house style meeting it was basically tables set end-to-end with maps and information laid out and TxDot officials on hand to answer questions and discuss the project. There was a table off to the side with hand-out booklets on right of way purchases and relocation assistance, and for those wanting to give their two cents there were comment cards that could be filled out and dropped in boxes at yet another side table.

The project’s Achilles Heel is that in order to widen the highway the state will have to purchase homeowners’ land and, in some cases, even purchase and tear down their homes to make room for the expanded roadway. TxDot currently has an 80-foot right of way but will need 20-30 feet more.

"Each situation is different," said Ryan LaFontaine, TxDot Public Information Officer. "It’s possible [relocation] could happen as we begin this project. We’re so early in this process that it’s hard to say with any certainty who and how each person is going to be effected. We do know some will be effected."

Two things were apparent early on – the project is in the very early stages and there were some very concerned citizens in attendance. Gary Billups, of Anna, was one of those citizens. He owns a building at the corner of 4th Street and Hwy. 5 and, according to the plan, that structure is set for displacement. TxDot will have to raze it to put in the new section of road. The lot isn’t very wide and Billups hopes TxDot will buy the whole piece of property as there won’t be much left once it claims the right of way.

"I appreciate public hearings; I know it’s just lip service, they already have a plan," said Billups. "They may take some input about what people think about it but it’s not going to alter the plan. The fact that they put everything out and show us their plan I think is helpful."

Billups said he is trying to get TxDot representative to attend a meeting of the Hurricane Creek Rotary Club to explain the process.

Anna resident John Geren, who lives just off of Hwy. 5 and will be one of those effected by the project, said that the widening of the highway was inevitable.

"I knew it was coming; you live on a major highway you know they’re going to expand it," said Geren. "They’re taking quite a chunk of land from me but it is expected. I noticed on the list is City Hall, public works, buildings like that.

"It was going to happen no matter what. I just hope that people getting relocated, who are going to lose their house, I hope that they get enough from the state to relocate. I hope they’re treated fairly."

Van Alstyne resident Lisa Walker is keeping an eye on this project as she is concerned what will happen to her city’s beloved historical sites once construction extends in a more northward direction.

"My main concern is the historical buildings and the buildings with historical markers in Van Alstyne once this project goes farther north," she said. "I know that TxDot is very hard to work with once they’ve made up their mind on something, and I am concerned about our historical areas in Melissa and in Anna, too.

"I’m an advocate of walkable cities, and I think the proposed roadway sounds like it’s going to be bigger than 380 in McKinney and that concerns me greatly, going right through our towns."

TxDot Design Engineer Michael Renfrow said the night’s meeting was to gather public input for a project in its very early stages.

"This is not any kind of approved design, this is just our first shot at designing. Our procedures are to do public involvement with every project, to get community input," he explained.

Renfrow was hesitant to give any sort of timeline for the project, as were other officials who spoke. The problem is that while Collin County paid for engineering work through regional toll revenue money received from State Hwy. 121 (when it was turned into a toll road the county got a share) the funds for the actual construction of the project have not yet been secured. That money still has to be found, most likely, according to Renfrow, coming from a federal highway grant or from the Council of Governments.

"If we had construction money it wouldn’t be so long," said Renfrow of the timeline. "This [meeting] is just to let people know we have a project in the works. I’m helping people to see what impacts are going to [happen] to their property; here’s my house, how much right of way, can I still turn left, that sort of thing."

Ultimately, the night served to give the public a possible glimpse into the future of Hwy. 5.

"Some people in some areas are in favor of it, some are against it," said Renfrow. "We’re [sometimes] not very popular when we come in here. Tonight, it’s not too bad. I’ve seen people who want the road widened, they just don’t want it taken out of their front yard. It’s the same on every project."

"There’s a lot of interest, I can tell you that," said LaFontaine. "I’ve been to some of these where two or three people show up, but there’s a lot of interest here and that’s good."

Tuesday night will serve as the first of several meetings. No time has been set for future meetings, however; eventually TxDot will hold a public hearing and give its official presentation on the project once details are more concrete.