ARLINGTON — A deal that would clear the way for construction of Texas 360 main lanes from south Arlington into Mansfield is close, officials said Thursday.The Regional Transportation Council will hold a special meeting Dec. 5 to consider approving the project, which includes using federal congestion mitigation and other surface transportation funds as a financial backstop to ensure that the road is paid off — even if traffic doesn’t produce enough toll revenue.The unusual funding arrangement would speed up the decades-long effort to build the main lanes from East Sublett Road/West Camp Wisdom Road in Arlington to U.S. 287 in Mansfield. That area is served only by frontage roads, which are often crammed with stop-and-go traffic as commuters try to get from the thriving residential areas to their jobs elsewhere in the region.“The proposal looks like you’ve hit a home run, and you’ve done a lot of work,” Arlington Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon, the RTC chairwoman, told the agency’s staff.The main lanes would be toll lanes operated by the North Texas Tollway Authority, and motorists would likely pay more than on the rest of the Dallas-Fort Worth tollway system, an official said.“The idea is to maybe set them a little higher so the revenue comes in a little faster,” said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.If the RTC approves the deal as expected, the tollway authority and the Texas Transportation Commission would also have to sign off on it before year’s end.Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley was among those who expressed concern about the likelihood of higher tolls, but he acknowledged that the less-than-perfect arrangement is needed to solve a horrific congestion problem.Whitley said that for future projects, including the construction of Trinity Parkway in Dallas and Texas 170 in Fort Worth’s Alliance area, “I think it’s critical that NTTA and RTC work closer together.”The crux of the RTC deal is for the Texas Department of Transportation to loan $300 million to the project. The Plano-based tollway authority would repay that over 35 years at 4.25 percent interest, using proceeds from tolls paid on the road. If fewer motorists than expected use the road and the $16 million to $26 million in annual payments can’t be made, the RTC would provide its federal road funds to fill the gap.The RTC’s money would be repaid with interest.Officials say they hope the road can be under construction next year and open to traffic by 2017. No loan payments would be required the first five years — until around 2022 — providing enough time for traffic to ramp up.The project includes building two main lanes in each direction from East Sublett Road/West Camp Wisdom Road to Broad Street, and one lane in each direction from Broad Street to U.S. 287.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson