New laws allow Texas 183 expansion from Fort Worth to Dallas

Posted Friday, Jun. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Help is on the way for white-knuckle drivers who are tired of the congestion on Texas 183 between Euless and Dallas, near the south entrance to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

State and local officials announced Friday that they will move forward with plans to hire a private developer and rebuild Texas 183 from near Industrial Boulevard in Euless to Interstate 35E in Dallas, including the roads surrounding the former Texas Stadium site in Irving.

The project, which could total $3.8 billion over the next several decades, might also include a makeover of Loop 12 near the stadium site, as well as Texas 114 from the stadium area to the north airport entrance in Grapevine.

“When it’s over, the region will have gained a state-of-the-art facility and one of the safest facilities in the state,” Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, said Friday during a ceremony at the University of Dallas in Irving.

The first phase could begin as soon as mid-2014 and be completed in 2019, Texas Department of Transportation officials said.

Growing trend

Laws passed by Harper-Brown and others allow the Transportation Department to hire private developers under certain circumstances to take over road projects. The public-private partnerships often involve using tolls to repay debt or equity investments by those developers, which are entitled to make a profit over years or decades.

The trend is growing worldwide as nations struggle to build infrastructure to move goods and keep people mobile.

An estimated $27 trillion is available worldwide to invest in transportation projects, including pension and equity funds, David Fass, Macquarie Group chief executive in Europe, Middle East and Africa, told attendees in late May at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany.

That’s enough money to solve many traffic problems in the U.S. and other countries. For some critics, the reliance on private developers raises questions about whether the public’s money and its ownership of public roads are being safeguarded.

For the Texas 183 project, the Transportation Department is seeking proposals from teams of private developers and hopes to announce a winner by early 2014, Executive Director Phil Wilson said.

Getting their share

The initial phase calls for rebuilding lanes, improving frontage roads and adding a toll lane in each direction. In future phases, a second toll lane and another toll-free lane would be added in each direction, although those phases might not materialize for more than a decade.

Although the improvements would improve traffic flow on the toll-free lanes, the best way for motorists to avoid congestion would be to use the toll lanes. Many critics compare that to paying an additional tax.

Nonetheless, area officials gathered Friday to thank the Legislature for enacting laws allowing expanded use of public-private partnerships to pay for projects the state couldn’t otherwise afford.

“We really thought y’all forgot about us,” Euless Mayor Mary Lib Saleh said.

She noted that the North Tarrant Express project in Tarrant County, a $2.5 billion makeover of Loop 820 and Texas 121/183, ended near Industrial Boulevard in Euless, leaving officials in that city wondering — until Friday — whether they’d get their share.

“Things are happening now because we are working together as a region,” she said.

Pass-through financing

The Texas 183 project announced Friday essentially becomes an eastern extension of the North Tarrant Express, although it will be built under a different contract.

To pay for the work, state officials want to use pass-through financing. The precise way it will work hasn’t been hammered out, but generally, the developer would arrange financing upfront. In return, the state would repay the developer over time, based on a formula that accounts for how many vehicles use the road.

Tolls collected on that part of Texas 183 would go to the state but could then be used to repay the developer. That arrangement is somewhat different from what’s being used on the North Tarrant Express, in which the developer gets to collect and keep the toll revenue for 52 years.

Texas 183 has been a main east-west route through North Texas since the 1940s, and it became a crucial commuting path in the late 1960s when the construction of DFW Airport brought thousands of residents into the then-undeveloped area known as Northeast Tarrant County or, as some call it, the Mid-Cities.

Today, Texas 183 carries a whopping 180,000 vehicles per day in some spots, yet it has remained essentially the same since a lane was added in each direction in 1973.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson

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