$1 billion DFW Connector project in Grapevine almost finished

Posted Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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For nearly four years, Grapevine resident Angela Gair has felt like a prisoner in her own neighborhood.

Since late 2009 and early 2010, residents such as Gair have been boxed in by the DFW Connector, a $1 billion makeover of the 8-mile stretch of Texas 114/121 that forms the main path into and out of the city. Because of the work, motorists encountered confusing detours, and traffic often stacked up for miles.

“We chose to stay in town rather than go anywhere because we didn’t want to get caught in traffic,” said Gair, who lives in the city’s historical center and works at Antique Revival on Main Street. “It’s just easier to stay here locally.”

But those who have been patient with the mammoth work zone — not only the city’s 47,385 residents but also the estimated 250,000 drivers who use the highway each day — are about to be rewarded.

The project is just four to six weeks away from being declared “substantially complete.” While workers will still be in the area, all traffic lanes will be in their permanent place and motorists will no longer have to worry about closures and detours.

Contractors say they will achieve that goal between mid-September and early October, with the precise date depending on factors such as the weather. In the worst-case scenario, the project will be done nine months ahead of schedule, officials said.

“After substantial completion, you’ll see some landscaping and aesthetics work happening, and some minor operations here and there,” said Alyssa Tenorio, spokeswoman for NorthGate Constructors, the firm overseeing the job. “But all the major work will be completed and traffic will, hopefully, be free-flowing through the project.”

On Wednesday, city and state leaders will be joined in Grapevine by Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez for a celebration.

The DFW Connector received a boost of federal funding in 2009 because it will bring traffic relief to the entire region, officials said. About 1 in 5 Tarrant County workers commutes to the greater Dallas area each day, according to census data.

Also, the Connector was considered a big economic boost, creating hundreds of new jobs. At the project’s peak, in 2011 and 2012, more than 800 workers were on site at a given time, officials have said.

Big stimulus

State officials are using a design-build approach to the project, giving the contractor flexibility in how to do the work. The work includes the addition of free lanes, frontage roads and toll lanes in the median. Major improvements were made to the north entrance of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

Some $667 million in state gas tax revenue and $107 million in voter-approved Proposition 14 state bond funds are covering much of the cost.

But it was an infusion of $250 million in federal Recovery Act money that allowed the project to go forward as planned in 2009. That award was the most the government’s stimulus plan spent on a single transportation project in the nation.

In the weeks before the federal funds arrived, planners were scrambling for ways to dramatically scale back the work.

“The size of the project was smaller. We weren’t going to be able to build as much,” said Tony Hartzel, spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation. “The stimulus funding came at the right time.”

NorthGate agreed in its October 2009 contract with the Transportation Department to finish the job by July 2014. The work was in full swing by February 2010.

Earlier this year, workers appeared to be a full year ahead of that plan. But Mother Nature has created delays.

“This rain has pushed it back a little bit,” Tenorio said.

Riding it out

Business owners and city officials have praised the state and the contractor for communicating lane closures, detours and other information. But the project has definitely taken a toll on Grapevine, Mayor William D. Tate said.

Many businesses have closed, including TGI Friday’s, Grandy’s, KFC, Luby’s Cafeteria and Wendy’s, the mayor said.

“When you close roads, you’re going to lose business,” Tate said. “When you back up traffic for 10 miles, you’re going to lose businesses.”

Tate said he will speak Wednesday about the need for alternatives to the automobile in Grapevine and throughout the region. The city is working with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority to bring a TEX Rail commuter line to Grapevine by late 2017.

Tate predicted that all the new lanes in the Texas 114/121 corridor will eventually fill with cars and, in 20 years or so, the region will again search for ways to address congestion.

By then, he said, there won’t be enough room in the tight space between DFW Airport and Lake Grapevine to add more lanes to Texas 114/121.

“We can’t afford to do it again,” the mayor said. “We’re going to have to look at other alternatives and do it pretty quick. It’s a great project. We’re glad to see its completion. Let’s enjoy it while we can.”

‘Grapevine Funnel’

The city appears to have weathered the work in good financial shape, state tax records show.

Sales tax receipts in the city increased every year during the project, according to data on file in the state comptroller’s office. Grapevine merchants collected $35.6 million in sales tax proceeds in 2012, up from $34.2 million in 2011 and $32.4 million in 2010.

This year’s sales tax collection is running ahead of last year’s, records show.

For Roddy McIntyre, a retired Scottish police officer who was visiting Grapevine’s Main Street with relatives last week, traffic already seems to be moving well.

He never experienced Texas 114/121 before the Connector project — back when the road was known as the “Grapevine Funnel” — so he doesn’t have a frame of reference.

But he says the traffic flow is better than in many major cities in his homeland, including Glasgow.

“It’s very orderly, and I don’t see any issues with it, really,” McIntyre said while taking a break on a bench outside an antique shop.

“I see that quite a lot of work has been done with the infrastructure in the area, and that can only be a good thing,” he said. “That is a lot of money.

“But I think there is a need for it. I think the end result will justify that expenditure.”

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

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