A $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation aims to improve mobility and accessibility in East McKinney through construction of the Lower 5 Plaza, a park spanning across and below SH 5.

The department awarded $80 million in grant funds on March 13 to projects in Dallas and McKinney. The Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods grant program, an initiative of the Biden administration, looks to reconnect communities cut off by transportation infrastructure and improve access to resources.

“It’s certainly making a statement, in my mind, to the east side of [SH 5] that we’re trying to connect the west and east side of [SH 5],” McKinney Mayor George Fuller said.

The current situation

The project will serve both as a public park and a safe crossing from East McKinney into downtown, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said during an April 4 celebration for the funding award.

“The point of transportation is to connect people,” Buttigieg said. “We think there will be not just economic benefits but safety benefits to the type of road designs that are happening around here.”

The Lower 5 Plaza initiative was first considered in 2022, with city staff initially presenting three design options. The design style for the project was selected by McKinney City Council members in April 2023.

The project includes a bridge at ground level on the existing SH 5 as well as a park that extends under the roadway and on either side of the bridge. The estimated cost to construct the project in the selected design style totaled $40 million-$45 million, according to a presentation by city staff at a December council meeting.

City officials are partnering with the Texas Department of Transportation and the North Central Texas Council of Governments for the project, according to a Dec. 12 council meeting. The construction of the bridge infrastructure will be incorporated into the reconstruction of SH 5, an initiative by TxDOT to widen and improve parts of the roadway spanning from Anna to Fairview.

McKinney City Council members unanimously approved an advanced funding agreement with TxDOT for the project at an April 16 meeting. The agreement allows funds to be set aside for the costs associated with the environmental impact assessment, right-of-way acquisition and engineering work for the project, Director of Engineering Gary Graham said.

The design selected for the Lower 5 Plaza project will require the demolition of properties on five parcels of land, which includes more than 10 businesses. The properties will be purchased as part of the right-of-way acquisition process. The city is expected to provide some assistance to affected businesses, but the type of support offered has not yet been determined, McKinney Communications and Media Manager Denise Lessard said.

Diving deeper

The council of governments pursued the grant funding on behalf of the various projects, NCTCOG Senior Program Manager Karla Windsor said.

“It was a great partnership between us and the city of McKinney,” Windsor said. “We helped them get a project across that maybe, if they’d applied directly, wouldn’t have been quite as successful just because of the amount of competition they would have had.”

The Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods program aims to improve connectivity in communities that have seen divides due to transportation infrastructure. The grant program will contribute $3.3 billion to over 130 locally led projects across the country, according to a news release.

“We arrived here understanding the power of community,” Buttigieg said. “The good ideas were not going to all come from Washington, [D.C.], but more of the funding should.”

With the recent grant award, the council of governments has allocated about $29.45 million in federal funds to the project, Windsor said.

“As a city, we’re the beneficiary of dollars from state and federal and regional entities, and I think that’s a big win for McKinney,” Fuller said.
Who it affects

John Arellano, manager for Cricket Wireless, a business in one of the properties set to be demolished, said he and his area managers have not received communication from the city about the project. Everything he has learned about the project came from social media.

Businesses next door, such as The Comedy Arena and Thomason Tire, are not slated for demolition.

Thomason Tire owner Jeri Thomason Laney said her concern is the widening of McDonald Street, which will make turning into her business difficult. Laney also said because the area is commercial, she does not think it needs to be beautified.

The Comedy Arena owner Von Daniel compared the expected construction to the impact seen by businesses when the COVID-19 pandemic started.

“Construction is not shutting down the entire world, just a couple of streets,” Daniel said. “After all that’s said and done, ... it’ll be fine.”

Fuller said the roadway has historically acted as a barrier to “nonautomotive means of transportation.” He said he expects the project will turn “divisive infrastructure” into a public space that also offers increased connectivity.

The project also has the potential to drive economic growth, he said, noting amenities often follow the development of green space.

“There’s always going to be parcels or property that are impacted greater than others, and it is unfortunate, but I believe that [there is a] holistic benefit to the community, including those businesses,” Fuller said.

Quote of note

"This park might bring business into the whole community. People are going to want to come ... to see the new park, ... which might bring dollars that wouldn’t have been coming this way without it,” Daniel said.

Looking ahead

The project is expected to take about six years to be completed, according to city documents.
  • 2024: Environmental review and public engagement phase
  • Q1 2025-Q4 2026: Right-of-way acquisition and building demolition
  • Q4 2024-Q2 2029: Construction of SH 5 project by TxDOT
  • Q3 2025-Q4 2026: Final park and infrastructure design by the city
  • Q4 2026-Q1 2023: Construction of the bridge, infrastructure and park
Learn more

For more information on the Lower 5 Plaza project, visit www.mckinneytexas.org/3338/projects#lower5.