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Bumper to Bumper: What’s going on with traffic in Collin County?

With nearly 400 people moving to DFW each day, the population growth isn’t slowing down anytime soon. More people means more traffic, so what are cities doing to get our roads ready?

Photo by David Downs

Many living in Collin County remember a time when Frisco was just farmlands, Plano had only one high school, and many of today’s big intersections, like Legacy and Preston, were simple four-way stops. For a long time, “traffic” in Collin County was confined to school zones and the drive-thru at Whataburger after high school football games. Since DFW saw a population growth of over 143,000 residents from July 2015 to July 2016, there’s more traffic than ever before. As North Texas continues to grows, how local government and big businesses are planning to deal with traffic is on all of our minds.

It’s definitely been on the mind of Plano’s city manager, Bruce Glasscock. “We’ve seen phenomenal growth in the Legacy West area. … But it’s clear that a majority of those employees aren’t living in Plano but in surrounding areas. Commuting is a big challenge [the city] has. We continuously work with DART and Texas Transit Association (TTA) in trying to evaluate ways we can move traffic more efficiently and smoothly.”

Texas Demographic Center estimates the Collin County population will hit nearly 1.4 million by 2025 and 3 million by 2045. The current population is estimated to be 940,000.

Peter Braster is the director of special projects for the City of Plano. His job includes overseeing how city engineers advance the flow of traffic.

“We’re constantly improving roadway networks, like making sure we have repaired roads and that roads themselves aren’t causing the problems. Bad repairs cause slow-downs and accidents. We’re being vigilant,” he says.

Currently, Peter and his team are working to overhaul the traffic light system and add additional phases. “Now we have three different phasings of signals or timing: morning, evening and every other time. We’re adding additional phases like weekend traffic. We have great professionals on [the engineering] staff that constantly monitor and tweak [the street light system].”

Peter has tested the light system personally on several occasions, driving from City Hall in downtown Plano to Legacy West in 20 minutes during 5 o’clock traffic. The trick: you must go the speed limit.

“You can’t go too fast or too slow either—not 35 or 45. So say you’re at a green [light] at Alma and Parker and proceed west, if you’re driving the speed limit you should be able to get to each traffic signal at a green light … one wave of green,” he says.

But it only takes one power outage or a firetruck coming through to throw the entire system off for several cycles. “One software tweak the engineers work on is helping firetrucks have a way of keeping the green for themselves during an emergency. We’re working to improve that recovery time. Traffic is a network; each piece interacts with the other, so they’re constantly watching the network and make sure it’s working,” Peter says. Basically, it’s a perpetually evolving puzzle.

In 2012, there were 325,000 jobs in Collin County. In 2054, it’s estimated there will be more than 1.15 million.

At a city council meeting in June, Peter laid out plans to establish a transportation management association (TMA). A TMA educates government entities, big businesses, developers and building owners on transportation issues and how they can work together to improve mobility.

“We’ve started a TMA that is really focused on Legacy West and [the surrounding area]. It geographically covers the areas from Preston Road and Spring Creek to 121,” Peter explains. “We’re kicking it off and getting members from all the companies and hotels—whoever is within that boundary—to educate their workforce on public transportation options.”

According to a survey the city conducted, 40 percent said they were open to other commuting options like trains, buses, carpooling or biking. Peter found two things hindering the use of alternative travel methods:

“People don’t know how to access public transportation; TMA is about educating members and businesses to find the best options for them,” Peter explains. “We also always get, ‘I would take a bus, but I have a child in elementary school, so what if something happens?’ DART has guaranteed rides home. If you have to leave and there’s no bus service, there are emergency rides homes. A lot of people don’t know that.”

Drivers in Dallas-Fort Worth sat in traffic an estimated 60 hours on average in 2016 according to Inrix—longer than any other region in Texas.

In order to help citizens become educated, DART will be releasing an all-inclusive transportation app in February 2018. Plano will be the first test site.

“This app will align all the options in one place and a single payment method. It will help the user find the best combination of methods, be it bus, rail, Uber, Lyft, bike, shuttle—whatever works for them. It’s a parent app, so you only use the one app and make one payment. We’re excited because if it works, it can be a game changer.”

Finding a game changer is going to be essential in order to keep traffic moving, businesses running on time and citizens happy.

“Traffic is a quality of life issue,” Peter explains. “If you take some of the companies that are moving here, it’s because their workers will enjoy better quality of life and transportation is a huge segment of that. So, do you prefer spending an hour in your car driving in traffic or an hour on your tablet while someone else drives you? If we can get 20 percent of the people working to use an alternative method, we can keep everyone moving.”

Cori Baker
Cori Baker is a journalist and photographer based in Plano, Texas. Cori is an alumna of Plano Senior High School and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor's in Journalism and a minor in business.

Cori has worked as an intern for KUT Radio, Austin's NPR affiliate station, a photographer for Reporting Texas, and is currently the Creative Assistant at the Plano Profile. Her work has been featured on Reporting Texas, Orange Magazine, Plano Profile, and the Austin American-Statesman.

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