With 64 percent of future growth in North Texas projected to take place in Collin County, many more motorists are expected to use Plano’s roadways over the next several years, according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
To accommodate this future growth, three of Plano’s major commuter highways—most notably, the Dallas North Tollway—are under construction. As a result, the city’s smaller, arterial roadways are being effected by North Texas’ growing pains, according to local transportation experts.
“When you have congestion [along our highways], you will have people looking for those parallel routes,” Plano Deputy City Manager Jack Carr said. “When you’re driving 10 miles per hour on US 75, people will find those parallel routes. It’s affecting the arterial roadways [and] the collector system.”
The city’s engineering department has been working with first responders, law enforcement and residents throughout the past year to enhance these smaller but crucial roadways and their signalization systems.
These efforts will more effectively circulate local traffic and regional commuters citywide by midspring.
Changing traffic flows
Unlike years past in Plano when rush hour consisted mainly of commuters driving to and from Dallas, Plano’s emergence as a regional employment center has led to shifts in peak time traffic flows, Carr said.
The city is bound by four major highways—US 75, the Sam Rayburn Tollway, the DNT and the President George Bush Turnpike—and its connector streets are susceptible to the improvement projects that take place along those highways. US 75, the DNT and the PGBT are undergoing widening projects and updates to accommodate the increasing traffic volumes. These projects are expected to continue over the next several years.
As a result, Plano’s arterial roads are being used by more regional commuters, a trend that will continue well into the future, said Lloyd Neal, transportation engineering manager for the city of Plano.
“Severe congestion will remain in Plano and surrounding cities, even with the best of our planned improvements … because of the [traffic] volume,” Neal said. “When you think about this new population that’s coming to Collin County, you can count two cars for every new household.”
Improving intersection capacity
With Plano’s roads built to full-lane capacity in accordance with the Collin County Thoroughfare Plan, the Plano Engineering Department also began an initiative last summer to add double right- and left-hand turn lanes along arterial roadways like Preston Road to better accommodate the influx of motorists.
Plano’s intersection adjustments also include the addition of pedestrian crosswalk countdown devices, as well as repainting pavement markings and enhancing sign reflectivity to enhance the safety of cyclists and pedestrians as the activity grows.
Collin County reimburses half of the total cost for road improvements that are included in the county’s thoroughfare plan and that are part of Plano’s Community Investment Program, or CIP. The North Central Texas Council of Governments also provides funding for these projects through its regional toll revenue program.
Neal and his department spend a good deal of time observing and analyzing the nature behind Plano’s top types of car accidents: failure to yield, unsafe lane changes and speeding. Speeding is quickly becoming the fastest-growing type of accident in Plano, he said.
“[Drivers are] speeding because of the time between intersections,” he said. “We needed to make sure our signals were up to snuff.”
In addition to safety measures, such as the addition of pedestrian crosswalks and signage and the signal retiming project, the transportation department is working with the police department to help educate drivers and pinpoint trouble spots around town.
Neal also fields calls from neighboring cities, other departments, truck drivers, cab companies, commuters, school bus drivers and homeowners regarding traffic and signalization patterns throughout the city.
The calls serve as essential communication for Plano’s traffic management center, which observes activity at all major intersections 24 hours a day. The center also collects massive amounts of data related to traffic counts and patterns as well as signal timing, Neal said.
The engineering department has even been approached by software developers looking to use the city’s signalization data to create apps for cars and smartphones in an effort to enhance a vehicle’s communication with infrastructure.
The transportation engineering department is looking to expand the center from its small office in Municipal Center. A larger facility would allow the department to more closely monitor the city’s 234 traffic signals, a number expected to grow to about 250 within the next year or two.
“What we want is real time. We want to be deploying cameras and detection systems that feed back to our transportation management center [in real time],” he said. “I rely upon road users to be my eyes and ears. Communication is critical.”