The North Texas Tollway Authority on Wednesday approved its part in a $300 million plan to extend Texas 360 through Mansfield.The Texas Department of Transportation, which would put up the funding for the 10-mile project, is to consider giving its blessing and completing the three-way agreement at a meeting next week.“We’re not finalized yet, but it’s a big step forward,” tollway authority spokesman Michael Rey said. “We’ve been working together very closely. There’s been a lot of hard work on all sides.”The Regional Transportation Commission approved the project in December. Under the three-way agreement, the Transportation Department would lend $300 million to the project and the tollway authority would repay that over 35 years from tolls paid on the extension.The project would extend the four-lane divided section of Texas 360 from its current end at Sublett Road-Camp Wisdom Road, south of Interstate 20, to East Broad Street in Mansfield, about 6.3 miles away. From that point, the project narrows to three lanes for 3.7 miles to U.S. 287. Northbound and southbound traffic would each have one lane plus alternating access to a center passing lane, which highway planners call a “Super 2.”That is the interim phase, which could start construction in 2015 and open for traffic in early 2018. Plans for an “ultimate” project, which hasn’t yet been considered for funding, would further widen the section north of Broad Street to eight lanes and the southern section to six lanes. The ultimate design, which includes building an interchange at U.S. 287 and Texas 360, would cost about $625 million, said Lisa Walzl, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Department.The project extends from southeast Tarrant County into Ellis and Johnson counties.Texas 360 is ranked 19th on the department’s list of the 100 most congested roadways in the state.“This agreement will ease congestion and spur economic development in south Arlington and Mansfield – and much of southeast Tarrant County,” tollway board Chairman Kenneth Barr said in a news release. “It is a vital road to our region.”Michael Morris, transportation director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said the increased capacity will improve safety.The project had appeared stalled for years until local officials became convinced that building toll roads was the only way to breathe life into it. The existing frontage roads – the last section was completed more than 10 years ago – would continue to be toll-free.“I think it represents the new dynamic for our future road projects,” said Mansfield Councilman Stephen Lindsey, a member of the commission representing Mansfield and several other communities. “There’s going to be this blending of public and private partnerships.”In December, the commission became the first of the three agencies to approve the memorandum of understanding. The commission agreed to serve as a backstop by using its federal funding sources to cover any insufficiency in toll revenue.The tollway authority will begin using toll revenues from the widened roadway to repay the state loan after construction reaches substantial completion.
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641 Twitter: @Kaddmann