Drive along U.S. 380 – in either direction, west or east, it doesn’t matter – and you’re going witness a sea of orange.
The “sea” presents itself in the endless barrels and cones that dot the highway. They seem to stretch from horizon to horizon.
They’re everywhere along the highway through Princeton in Collin County. Yes, they stretch westward along the way toward – and into – McKinney. They also dot the highway eastward as you head into Farmersville and Greenville and farther into Hunt County.
What’s the plan here? What’s with the sea of orange? How long will motorists have to “swim” through that sea as they make their way through one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States of America?
Princeton City Manager Derek Borg is an optimistic man. He has lived in Princeton since 1998, moving there from Thousand Oaks, Calif., his hometown. To say he has seen huge changes in his community is to commit the Mother of All Understatements.
Construction crews are building a raised median along U.S. 380, Borg said. Eventually, he added, the Texas Department of Transportation plans to add a third lane in each direction.
Yes, the highway is vastly different from the two-lane asphalt roadway that coursed through Princeton when Borg arrived 21 years ago. He came to Collin County to continue his work as a building contractor; he went to work for the city as an assistant fire chief, then became the fire chief before ascending to his current post as city manager.
The extensive road work has not been hassle-free, as Borg acknowledged. Some owners of “selective businesses” are concerned about traffic in and out of their establishments because TxDOT was unable to create crossover lanes to enable motorists to enter their lots easily. Sometimes the motorists must travel a bit down the highway, make a U-turn and then enter the business parking lot. It’s still safer along U.S. 380 than it was before the road construction began, he said.
U.S. 380 was experiencing too many serious traffic accidents, Borg said. “We began working with TxDOT to try to mitigate traffic accidents,” Borg said, explaining that the “center lane became a problem.” Motorists would wait to turn, only to collide with other vehicles that come along quickly – at 60 mph, he said.
The community reaction to all the hassle, the road construction crews and the occasional stoppage of traffic has been generally positive, the city manager said. “This is what they told us they wanted to see,” Borg explained.
He also pointed out that motorists have become better drivers; they are more conscientious and aware of everyone else on the busy highway.
“380 is our economic engine through here,” Borg said.
How rapidly is the community growing? The “Welcome to Princeton” sign lists the population as comprising 6,807 residents. “That was the last census” in 2010, Borg said with a chuckle. He added that he recently received a population estimate from the North Central Texas Council of Governments that pegged Princeton’s population today at 12,000 to 13,000. “We’re growing at about 1,000 housing units per year,” or about 3,000 people annually, Borg said.
The work, of course, isn’t confined to Collin County. Road crews are tearing up the highway from Denton County to the west and well into to Hunt County to the east.
As for Princeton’s road work, Borg said he expects to be essentially finished by August or September. But that’s just the median work.
“We are going to apply for a Texas beautification grant” to pay for massive landscaping along U.S. 380, Borg said. The plan is to plant trees and assorted native shrubbery along the highway. “It’s going to look nice,” he promised.
“Work has slowed. They didn’t think the concrete would be this thick,” Borg said. He added that the completion date is “totally subject to the weather.”
There you go. Try predicting what Mother Nature will produce. Especially in North Texas.
John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.
Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.