NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- Driving Northeast Loop 820 soon will be a little more hair-raising.
Though traffic will still have two lanes each way on 820 between Haltom City and Hurst, the shoulders that give folks a margin for error -- or a flat tire -- are going away. Construction of the North Tarrant Express, a $2.5 billion project to widen 13.5 miles of highway from Interstate 35W to the Texas 121/183 split, will block them with concrete barricades later this month.
Drivers should expect the barriers to block the shoulders and occasionally shift traffic lanes in the area for at least the next two years, said Lara Kohl, a spokeswoman for Bluebonnet Contractors, the project's builder.
"Because of these barriers, there's less room to make mistakes," she said. "We really want drivers to slow down and pay attention."
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The stretch of highway -- a popular east-west commuter route -- is often jammed with vehicles, and not just during rush hours. According to Inrix National Traffic Scorecard's 2010 annual report for the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Loop 820 between Grapevine Highway and Denton Highway is the second-most-congested corridor in Tarrant County. Northbound Interstate 35W between Rosedale Street and Western Center Boulevard is No. 1.
In the bottleneck category, Loop 820 holds four of the top five spots. Shaving off the shoulders shouldn't make conditions that much worse, said Craig Hulse, North Richland Hills' economic development director.
"We're excited because what it means is the project is here," he said, referring to the North Tarrant Express work. "Even though there will be short-term pain, we know there will be long-term gain with increased capacity and mobility through Loop 820. Cars will pass through the area much faster."
Robert Hinkle, spokesman for North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners, said the barricades will run from Denton Highway to the interchange near North East Mall and a short distance into Hurst.
Hinkle said that if a driver has trouble, but can keep moving, getting to the next exit or at least to a place where there's room to get out of traffic is the best idea.
Kohl said that most drivers should be used to barricades on the shoulders by now.
They've been on the project's east and west ends for months.
"Now the work has reached the middle of the project," she said.
Terry Evans, 817-390-7620