Seven years after completing the 9.2-mile stretch of Texas 360 frontage roads through Mansfield, state officials take the next major step toward building main highway lanes when it outlines an environmental assessment at a public hearing Thursday.The Texas Department of Transportation will take public comments on the environment study at the hearing in the Timberview High School cafeteria, 7700 S. Watson Road. An open house displaying project exhibits starts at 6 p.m. A formal TxDOT presentation begins at 7 p.m., and afterward attendees can make comments and ask questions on the record.Officials of TxDOT and the North Central Texas Council of Governments say the study is nearly complete and expect a positive result, mostly because the main highway lanes would be within the footprint – between the frontage roads – of a corridor that was cleared in an environmental assessment many years ago.But public comment will be considered for the final report, officials said.“The hearing has to take place and has to result in a finding of no significant impact,” said Mansfield Mayor Pro Tem Stephen Lindsey, who represents Mansfield and seven other smaller Tarrant County cities on the NCTCOG’s Region Transportation Council, which oversees federal transportation funding to local governments. “At that point there is a green light to move into the plan, design and build phase.”The public notice said the project would transition Texas 360 from the existing four-lane roadway to an eight-lane divided tollway from 1,310 feet north of East Sublett Road/West Camp Wisdom Road to Debbie Lane/Ragland Road. From there the highway would be extended as a six-lane divided toll way to U.S. 287, an estimated $625 million project.Construction could begin as soon as 2015 and finish in 2018. There is an interim version for about $300 million that would start with four toll lanes for the north section and two lanes (one each direction) from Broad Street to U.S. 287. State and local officials agree that building the main lanes as tollways, considering the scarcity of Texas road construction funds, is the only way to get the project funded in the next decade. The frontage roads will remain toll free.“We have limited dollars, so we are prioritizing as best we can,” said Michael Morris, transportation director of the NCTCOG. “This project is the next priority. The next priority will be the Trinity Parkway project in downtown Dallas.”Texas 360 has a long history, starting with the opening of its first two-lane section in 1959 in North Arlington. TxDOT has undertaken four projects that extended Texas 360 south of Interstate 20 since 1994 that extended the main lanes to Green Oaks Boulevard Southeast and the frontage roads to U.S. 287.The four lanes of service roads (two each way) were built in segments southward from I-20 – to New York Avenue in 1994, to East Broad Street in 1997 and to U.S 287 in 2003.But daily traffic jams on the service roads prove the need for the main, nonstop highway lanes, say city officials from Mansfield, Arlington and Grand Prairie, which have put up money and helped acquire right-of-way.“The frontage roads are not sufficient to carry the kind of traffic we’re experiencing there,” said Mansfield City Manager Clayton Chandler. “It’s basically a parking lot between 4 and 6:30 in the afternoon. It’s not a good situation, and it’s only getting worse.”Traffic studies conducted in 2011 show the Texas 360 intersection at Barton Road carried 92,000 vehicles per day, the most of any 360 crossing south of I-20. The section of Texas 360 just north of I-20 is ranked as the state’s 39th most congested corridor because of the bottleneck south of I-20 at Camp Wisdom Road. TxDOT projects traffic counts of 243,200 vehicles daily south of I-20 by 2030.
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641 Twitter: @Kaddmann