A key proposal outlined in a city of Plano-commissioned mobility study that city officials expect would alleviate some future traffic congestion in the Legacy business area has hit a funding roadblock two years after the same study painted a grim portrait of projected traffic conditions.
As thousands of employees have taken to the roadways in recent years in the burgeoning employment center, efforts to seek funding to form a transportation management association, as recommended by Kimley-Horn & Associates in their 2016 mobility study, have been delayed.
The North Central Texas Council of Governments, the policy-making body responsible for coordinating the distribution of transportation funds from the state and federal government, informed the city of Plano in November of delays in the Texas Department of Transportation’s approval of a funding agreement, according to the city. That delay is expected to push back the anticipated date of the disbursement of funds into 2019.
Even while factoring the city’s planned road construction and expansion projects, the anticipated future congestion is expected to reach nearly 2 minutes of traffic delays during peak evening rush hour at several major intersections in the study area, according to the Kimley-Horn study. The delays could back traffic up through multiple intersections on Legacy Drive, the study said, causing gridlock at times around the new employment hub.
“Right now, we’ve been sort of stuck in a contracting loop with [the Texas Department of Transportation],” said Peter Braster, city of Plano director of special projects. “The money comes through TxDOT. … As far as we know, everything is ready to go, it just hasn’t been signed by someone at TxDOT.”
A series of delays
The city of Plano first commissioned the Kimley-Horn study in late 2015—not long after Toyota had announced its plans to relocate its North American headquarters to Plano and before the unveiling of the now-bustling Legacy West corporate and mixed-use development.
At the time, the study highlighted the organization of a transportation management association, a voluntary coalition of employers working to alleviate congestion in a specific region, as one of the most viable options in mitigating future traffic issues in the Legacy business area.
Soon after the release of the study in November 2016, the city of Plano made contact with NCTCOG to be included in the council of governments’ transportation improvement program, Braster said in an email.
“Unfortunately, the project agreement was not executed before the end of [fiscal year]2018, and it is not in the new state funding document, so it will have to be re-added,” Christie Gotti, a senior program manager at NCTCOG, said in a statement. “We anticipate it would be re-approved in the late March, early April 2019 timeframe. At that point, the City can execute the agreement with TxDOT to gain access to the funds.”
Meanwhile, companies like Liberty Mutual, Toyota, JPMorgan Chase & Co., NTT Data and FedEx Office have brought thousands of new employees, and consequently more vehicles, into the Legacy business area. Those five corporations alone have added roughly 15,000 new employees to the area, according to recent employee tallies provided by the companies to Community Impact Newspaper.
As city officials continue their work to secure funding for the future TMA, some of the corporations in the area have already begun working to provide their employees flexible transportation options.
“We have a flexible work policy, where team members and managers have a handful of options they can work with to help accommodate easier travel into work, but still meet daily business needs,” Toyota spokesperson Karen Nielsen said in an email. “We’ve also taken significant steps to ensure our campus is environmentally friendly as possible. As a part of that effort, we support—and are continually looking at—alternative transportation options, including carpooling and ridesharing.”
Seeking corporate buy-in
Even if the city of Plano funded multiple proposed road-improvement projects recommended in the study, Kimley-Horn’s traffic models showed only marginal reductions in future traffic delays.
According to an NCTCOG presentation highlighted in the study, the result of a successful TMA goes beyond potential remedies for traffic conditions, but also includes improving regional air quality, decreasing parking demands and reducing transportation costs for employees. NCTCOG points to partnerships with transit agencies as one method of achieving those goals.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit has recently expanded its services in the Legacy business area to include on-demand shuttle services, and Tarrant County’s Trinity Metro has partnered with dozens of employers to offer more appealing transit options.
Still, expanding transit services is just one component of alleviating traffic, and it remains unclear if stakeholders in the Legacy business area would be willing to alter their transportation habits. In a Kimley-Horn survey of Legacy-business-area commuters, only 21 percent of respondents said they would use convenient transit options if they were made available.
In recent statements, Liberty Mutual and Toyota each reaffirmed their commitment to working with other Legacy-area corporations as part of the future TMA.
“Our experience working with TMAs around the country indicates that they are worthwhile enterprises that help to foster a more efficient and user-friendly transportation environment and thus benefit the community as a whole,” Liberty Mutual said in a statement. “We recognize that a sustained effort over time will be needed in order to advance a new way of thinking about transportation in the Plano area, and we are interested in being a part of the solution.”
FedEx Office was unable to comment before this paper’s print deadline. A spokesperson for NTT Data said they were not aware of plans for the company to participate in the TMA process. JPMorgan Chase & Co. declined to comment on their commitment to the TMA.
Having completed the required steps provided by NCTCOG to organize the TMA, Plano officials are now waiting for TxDOT to greenlight the funding agreement before they can finally begin the employer recruiting process.