Highways and Byways

A Look Into Fort Worth Area Roads and Highway Projects

| by Sean ChaffinThe Metroplex’s population shows no signs of slowing down. Census figures show that 534,694 people called Cowtown home in 2000. But with a robust Texas economy and high job gains in the area, that number has climbed to more than 792,000.

With more people come more road and mobility demands. Dallas-Fort Worth led all metropolitan areas in job creation last year with 136,900. With continued growth and in turn more cars on the road, numerous Tarrant County road projects are in the pipeline or currently in construction to help alleviate traffic and meet the transportation demands of the area.

Along with improved mobility, local officials believe the Chisholm Trail Parkway project is having a major impact on the area’s economy as well.

RECENT AND CURRENT PROJECTS

Chisholm Trail Parkway Formerly known as State Highway 121 and Southwest Parkway, this stretch of highway was renamed in May 2011. In recent years, toll roads have become a key answer to continuing transportation projects. The CTP is one of those.

Officials with the North Texas Tollway Authority say the 27.6-mile toll road has been 50 years in the making. The parkway extends from downtown Fort Worth, south to Cleburne in Johnson County and was a collaboration among: the NTTA; TxDOT; the North Central Texas Council of Governments; Tarrant and Johnson counties; the cities of Fort Worth, Burleson and Cleburne; and Western and Union Pacific railroad.

The CTP main lanes opened to traffic in May 2014, and all major construction is expected to be completed this spring. Aesthetic work, such as landscaping and placement of public art pieces, will continue through 2015.

“Chisholm Trail Parkway is a much-needed mobility thoroughfare that is creating faster, safer and more efficient routes, as well as improved access for the drivers of Fort Worth, Tarrant and Johnson counties,” says Susan M. Slupecki with the North Texas Tollway Authority. “Since its opening in May 2014, it has already proved to be an economic generator for the region.”

Along with improved mobility, local officials believe the project is having a major impact on the area’s economy as well. The NTTA reports an additional 3,000 homes are being planned in Johnson County; Tarleton State University is opening a Fort Worth campus; and new business, dining and entertainment establishments are moving into areas along the CTP.

According to a study by the University of North Texas Center for Economic Development and Research, the project will produce “an economic impact exceeding $3.2 billion through project completion."

While roundabouts are thought of as a northern construction by many, modern roundabouts are a growing form of intersection control because they are safer, cheaper and more efficient to operate.

Addition Of Roundabouts Roundabouts are right around the corner – and could be a nice looking addition to some area roadways soon. An alternative to traditional intersections, the City of Fort Worth is constructing several modern roundabouts, and some of the projects are set to open in the next few months.

A roundabout is a circular-style intersection in which drivers are able to keep moving through and around the intersection without stoplights or traffic signals. Traffic is slowed around a central island, making it easy for drivers to navigate around and take the appropriate roadway. Entering drivers yield to cars already in the roundabout, designed to slow vehicle speeds to 25 mph or less.

While roundabouts are thought of as a northern construction by many, modern roundabouts are a growing form of intersection control because they are safer, cheaper and more efficient to operate, says City of Fort Worth spokesman Kevin Neal.

According to a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, modern roundabouts reduce vehicle collisions by 40 percent and injury collisions by 75 percent in comparison to traditional intersections. Fatal and incapacitating collisions are reduced by about 90 percent, the study says.

“Slowly moving traffic and increased efficiency may seem mutually exclusive, but that’s not the case with modern roundabouts, where instead of traffic stopping, vehicles can steadily move through the intersection,” Neal says.

He adds that modern roundabouts can be confused with older, larger types of circular intersections known as traffic circles or rotaries, which give the right-of-way to entering vehicles – like those seen in Europe (fans of National Lampoon’s European Vacation may remember Clark Griswold’s all-day troubles with one of these in London). These older styles could cause safety and capacity problems, Neal says, because they are so much larger, and traffic moves much faster.

“The modern roundabout was developed to improve problems associated with traffic circles,” Neal says.

Roundabouts have already been added to some local intersections recently, including at Summer Creek Drive and McPherson Boulevard in southwest Fort Worth and along Riverside Drive in far north Fort Worth and East Rosedale Street. More roundabouts are planned as part of the approaches to the Trinity River Vision bridges north of downtown. Another roundabout is planned for Henderson Street and White Settlement Road.

Neal adds that there are several other positive aspects related to roundabouts. They can reduce delays for motorists and provide a more aesthetically pleasing look with plentiful trees and green space.

“The long-term costs of modern roundabouts can be lower because they eliminate electrical maintenance costs associated with signalized intersections,” he says. “Modern roundabouts do not require constant power, hardware maintenance or updates.”

North Texas Expressway The $2.1 billion North Texas Express project (820 North loop and 121/183 Airport Freeway) is a unique 13.3-mile project that was constructed simultaneously across six cities in Northeast Tarrant County. TxDOT and other area transportation officials utilized a design/build system to speed up construction and accelerate growth, and the project helps residents accustomed to gridlock in the area – especially in the Hurst, Euless and Bedford areas.

Interstate 35W is a major north and south corridor for commuters and regional, interstate and international trade with thousands of vehicles each day. The rebuilt route includes new main lanes and frontage roads, as well as two new TEXpress managed toll lanes in each direction – helping to ease traffic congestion along the busy highway.

“The NTE project replaced interstate and state highway infrastructure that was 50 or 60 years old with 21st century road building technology basically doubling capacity in the corridor that is better designed and safer for motorists,” North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners’ Robert Hinkle says. “Traffic has fully utilized the extra designated lanes throughout the corridor, which has increased travel speeds even during peak times.”

The completed project opened in October – nine months ahead of schedule. The NTE project is a public-private-partnership financed through: $573 million from TxDOT; a $650 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan; $400 million in private activity bonds; and $427 million in private equity, all of which must be repaid by the developer operator, NTE Mobility Partners.

NTE Mobility Partners and North Tarrant Infrastructure are now rebuilding and expanding a 6.4-mile section of Interstate 35W through Fort Worth under a similar finding structure at a cost of $1.4 billion. Funds from the tolls will pay for maintenance instead of TxDOT or state funds.

Three signature bridges are being built for the Trinity Uptown project. Construction has continued along the Trinity River for several years, and city officials consider this a project milestone.

Panther Island Signature Bridges Three signature bridges are being built for the Trinity Uptown project. Construction has continued along the Trinity River for several years, and city officials consider this a project milestone.

A collaborative effort among the Trinity River Vision Authority, TxDOT, City of Fort Worth, Tarrant County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the three bridges will be built along the realigned Trinity River and cost a total of $66 million. Work is set to begin in late summer, and the bridges will serve as the gateways to Panther Island.

“The bridges create the foundation for a unique, urban waterfront community,” according to city plans.

The bridges feature an innovative design and make for a modern feel. Designers believe the project will enhance the area with three unique V-Pier bridges, 10-foot pedestrian-lit sidewalks, bicycle facilities, enhanced landscaping and enhanced opportunities for future transportation. City officials also hope they will reduce traffic delays.

The project is part of the Trinity River Vision projects (which also includes the roundabouts) with the goal to create an urban waterfront community to the north of downtown Fort Worth – termed Central City by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but called Panther Island by many. Development of this area includes two major components:

• The publicly funded portion of the plan includes environmental cleanup, flood protection, and infrastructure improvements and additions, including bridges, roads and trails.

• After flood control, infrastructure and environmental concerns are addressed, development of 800 acres on the island will begin, connecting Downtown, the Cultural District and the Stockyards.

Plans call for boating and river activities, including more than 12 miles of canals and walkways into the island; riverfront dining and entertainment; a 33-acre lake and large public boardwalk with gathering space for large community events; and more. City officials believe the project will almost double the size of downtown Fort Worth and bring in more than $600 million in economic development activity to the city during the first 10 years alone.

FUTURE PROJECTS

Expansion Of Interstate 30 Heavy traffic, of course, is a major daily grind on this congested route from Dallas and other parts of the state. TxDOT has approved a major project within Fort Worth to help ease some congestion. The only project currently funded for the I-30 corridor is the interchange of the highway and State Highway 360.

“The current interchange does not include direct connect ramps and flyovers,” says Val Lopez with TxDOT. “The project would upgrade what’s currently there to a modern direct connect interchange.”

The estimated cost for the project is $250 million, and bidding is scheduled for this year. Ultimately, Lopez says, that section of I-30 will be rebuilt with five lanes in each direction with two reversible HOV lanes. The interchange area, however, is currently the only segment that has been funded so far.

State Highway 360 Toll Road In addition to the I-30/SH 360 interchange, more is planned for SH360 with the addition of a toll road south of I-20. The Texas Transportation Commission was expected to award the construction of the project soon for a toll road to U.S. Highway 287.

Construction is estimated to begin in the fall of 2015 as part of a public partnership between TxDOT and the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA). The $300 million project is scheduled to reach substantial completion in late 2017 and will be constructed through a design-build approach providing needed safety improvements, congestion relief and economic development benefits. Upon completion, the NTTA will operate the toll road.

Interstate Highway 35 West Expansion Plans call for this 6.5-mile segment to be rebuilt and expanded to four lanes in both directions. This is a major section of Interstate 35 that runs through Fort Worth and Tarrant County – from downtown to the 35W/820 interchange will connect to the segment from the interchange to the 287 (Decatur cut-off) that is currently being rebuilt by TxDOT.

“The goal is to rebuild old infrastructure and expand capacity,” North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners Director of Corporate Affairs Robert Hinkle says. “Rebuilding 50- to 60-year-old infrastructure is obviously better designed and safer for motorists.”

As part of the project, managed tolled lanes (TEXpress Lanes) will connect with the TEXpress lanes on 820 to provide an alternative route for longer-term commuters trying to drive through any or all of the managed lane corridors in North Texas. Managed toll lanes are described by the NTTA as “a tollway within a highway.” The TEXpress Lanes are unique toll lanes added within existing major roadways to provide extra capacity and efficiently handle more traffic volume.

Hinkle says implementing the managed lane concept, developed by regional transportation planners over the past couple of decades, is designed to better manage congestion in major urban corridors. There are no toll booths so that traffic keeps moving, and prices fluctuate to prevent congestion and allow traffic to flow freely – lower during non-peak driving times and higher during busier times.

The $1.4 billion project features funding from several entities including: Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, $531 million; Private Activity Bonds, $274 million; TxDOT and the North Central Texas Council of Governments, $127 million; and private equity from investment partners, $430 million. The Interstate 35 West segments are being rebuilt now and expected to open in 2017 and 2018.