Ask 10 people, and you’ll likely get a variety of responses and suggestions about it.

If any of those people have had to negotiate Corsicana’s Seventh Avenue traffic with an 18-wheeler in front of and behind them, they perhaps may be a bit more vocal, or emphatic in their response.

Whether you call it “the loop,” the “bypass,” or by its official name, the State Highway 31 Relief Route, the long-planned highway around Corsicana is coming closer to reality, and still a topic you find disagreement on.

The project, with an estimated price tag near $150 million, could see construction start in two and a half to three years, according to Darwin Myers, area engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation.

“The right-of-way has all been surveyed and mapped,” Myers said. “The plans are being developed by one of the design groups in the Dallas District Office.”

Myers said environmental studies for phase one of the project, which would start west of Corsicana near the TxDOT facility and meet Interstate Highway 45 near the southwest side of Corsicana and continue to South Highway 287 just north of Camp Wanica Road, are currently being reviewed in Austin. The plans are expected to be approved this spring, Myers said.

“Once the environmental is approved, we can conduct public hearings. All of the affected property owners and the city and county will be notified, and following that, we can begin right-of-way acquisition,” Myers said.

Myers said talks are continuing with the city and the county over funding of the project. Their participation in the construction costs could help determine how quickly the project can be completed, based on funding received from the state.

The second phase of the roadway, which would run from Hwy. 287 back to Hwy. 31 near the Firestone and PacTiv plants, is still being surveyed.

“There are a number of oil wells located in phase two that have to be studied,” Myers said. Environmental studies are not yet completed on phase two of the project.

Getting 18-wheeler traffic off of Hwy. 31, or Seventh Avenue, through Corsicana would please a lot of motorists, but not all of the businesses along the busy highway are in favor of the bypass.

“It would definitely affect our business,” Ricky Blackwell of Bill’s Fried Chicken on East Hwy. 31 said. “It won’t put me out of business, because about 85 percent of our traffic is local people, but it will hurt us some.”

Blackwell said he would most likely increase his billboard advertising to continue to draw highway traffic.

Joe Hubbard, owner of “The Other Place,” another Seventh Avenue eatery, is not as concerned as Blackwell about the effects of a bypass route.

“It could have some impact, but I don’t feel I get that much business from people just driving through,” Hubbard said.

“Most of my business is local, and fortunately, the hotels in town send me a lot of business,” he said, “and I’m not sure but what getting rid of the traffic (on Seventh) would be worth it.”

Lee McCleary, Corsicana/Navarro County Economic Development Director points to benefits the bypass route could bring to the area.

“I think the benefits will far outweigh the costs ... it will enhance the transportation network through the city,” he said.

“It will take some traffic off Hwy. 31, that’s what it’s designed to do. But by the same token, it will take a significant number of 18-wheelers and vehicles that would not stop in the city off the highway, taking the pressure off of Hwy. 31. There will be less congestion, less compaction, it will be more user-friendly,” McCleary added.

Another Seventh Avenue critic of the proposed bypass route is Collin Street Bakery President Bob McNutt. While McNutt isn’t worried about the possible effect on the bakery’s downtown location, he thinks the idea is bad for Corsicana in general.

“If you look at the old Business 75 (now Business Interstate 45) and see what happened there, I think that’s reflective of what could happen on Seventh Avenue in Corsicana,” McNutt said.

“You’ve got to have traffic to have amenities (in the city) ... invariably the businesses along Seventh Avenue would suffer. I think the city of Corsicana would suffer,” he added.

McNutt does offer an alternative idea to help with the congestion along Corsicana’s main east-west highway.

“To me, if would make a lot of sense, if it were viable, to make Seventh Avenue one-way in one direction, and then buy the old railroad right-of-way that runs behind the bakery and make that Seventh Avenue in the other direction,” McNutt said.

“I think if you did that, you’d save the taxpayers millions of dollars, and route that traffic more quickly and smoothly than it is now,” he added.

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Bob Belcher may be reached via e-mail at belcher@corsicanadailysun.com

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