In about six weeks, commuters in Northeast Tarrant County may have serious cause for celebration.The $2.5 billion makeover of Loop 820 and Texas 121/183 — known as the North Tarrant Express — will be completed in early October, eight months ahead of schedule, officials said.“To say we are thrilled for the project to be completed early would be an understatement,” said City Manager Allan Weegar of Hurst, which sits in the middle of the reconstruction project.Until now, officials with the main contractor, NTE Mobility Partners, would only say they expected to be done with the project by the end of the year. But nearly all the major work that could be seriously delayed by factors such as rain — including paving of freeway main lanes and toll lanes — is now complete, spokesman Robert Hinkle said.“They’re just doing some striping and putting on that last layer of pavement on some of the frontage roads, the last couple of inches that levels it out,” Hinkle said. “Just a normal rain isn’t really going to slow the process up that much, because what’s left is really just finish-up work.”The 13-mile, east-west corridor, which runs from Fort Worth to Euless, features rebuilt main lanes plus two toll lanes in each direction, making it possible for motorists to buy their way out of congestion.The toll lanes, known as TEXpress lanes, can be used by any vehicle. Those with TollTags can have their payments deducted automatically as they drive under sensors on the road, while those without TollTags will have their license plates photographed and the registered owner will be sent a bill.Carpoolers who normally drive with two or more occupants per vehicle can sign up for discounted tolls at TEXpresslanes.com.Drivers who have endured alternate routes and diverted lanes on the North Tarrant Express work site since 2010 may have already noticed some mobility improvements in recent weeks. Traffic is now traveling in the final configuration on the main highway lanes, Hinkle said.And businesses, especially in the Hurst and Bedford area, which have endured major inconveniences that in many cases cost them sales and loyal customers, can now begin to enjoy the fruits of their patience.Businesses coming backIn Bedford, which lost a handful of businesses because of the project, the North Tarrant Express is paving the way for new restaurants, retail and medical facilities, said Natalie Foster, a spokeswoman for the city.The Mac Churchill Auto Mall held its grand opening earlier this month in the former site of the Park Plaza Mercedes-Benz dealership, on the north side of NTE.“And The Movie Tavern is expanding, taking over a vacant grocery store, and a $6 million cancer treatment center will open this fall,” Foster said, referring to the Texas Health HEB Cancer Center, located at the corner of Hospital Parkway and Central Park Boulevard.In Hurst, the construction has caused traffic problems for shoppers trying to access North East Mall and other businesses, but Weegar said the city is benefiting economically from restaurants such as In-N-Out Burger, which opened on Precinct Line Road amid mounds of dirt and concrete.Other restaurants, such as Outback Steakhouse, relocated within the city.I-35W work gears upBut while the sailing promises to be smooth on Loop 820 and Texas 121/183 “Airport Freeway” — the main road to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport’s south entrance — the pain is just beginning on a nearby corridor.Interstate 35W from near downtown Fort Worth to south of Alliance Airport is in the early stages of a four-year makeover. Motorists in that corridor, which connects to North Tarrant Express at Loop 820, can expect major tie-ups as workers prepare to tear down and rebuild the 28th Street bridge.Also, the Western Center Boulevard intersection will be rebuilt in the coming months, Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Peters said.Alec Nguyen, whose family owns an Xtreme Supplement Depot nutrition store at the I-35W northbound service road and Western Center Boulevard, said he has learned to take a little-known “skinny street” and private driveway behind his business to get to and from work.“Sometimes it’s pretty hectic,” he said. “Some of the [retail] entrances are kind of small, and we’ve seen a lot of accidents.” Staff writer Elizabeth Campbell contributed to this report.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson