October 10, 2012

Developer, Texas reach deal to expand I-35W

The stretch of highway was named the most congested in Texas.

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Hoping to speed up work to relieve the most congested stretch of highway in the state, the Texas Department of Transportation has reached a tentative $1.6 billion deal with a private developer to expand Interstate 35W in north Fort Worth.

The work is expected to begin in mid-2013 and be completed by mid-2018.

It would include rebuilding lanes and adding two managed toll lanes in each direction of I-35W from Interstate 30 near downtown to the U.S. 287 split south of Alliance Airport.

A draft of the agreement with the developer, North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners, will be available for public inspection at 6 p.m. today at the department's Fort Worth district regional training center, 2501 SW Loop 820.

The developer, also known as NTE Mobility Partners, is building the $2.5 billion North Tarrant Express project, which includes expanding Loop 820 and Texas 121/183 in Northeast Tarrant County.

If the new agreement is finalized, NTE Mobility Partners would add I-35W to the North Tarrant Express work.

The arrangement would be titled NTE Mobility Partners Segments 3 Llc.

The public meeting today is "a very important step" in designing and starting the I-35W improvements by mid-2013, Transportation Department spokesman Tony Hartzel said.

After hearing from the public, the department must finalize the agreement and submit it to the Legislative Budget Board and the attorney general's office.

A report on the state's "100 Most Congested Roadways" is produced annually, and this year's edition concluded that the I-35W stretch in north Fort Worth is the worst in the state -- causing motorists to waste more than 2 million hours collectively. The improvements proposed in the draft agreement would cut that delay by more than a third, officials said.

"Texans have better things to do than to sit in traffic, and that's why we're proud to partner with the private sector to speed up a critical transportation project," Phil Wilson, Transportation Department executive director, said in a statement.

The developer would build the section from I-30 to Loop 820 and maintain it until 2061 -- and keep tolls generated on the managed lanes during those years.

The state Transportation Department would build the portion from north of Loop 820 to U.S. 287 at an estimated cost of $234 million, then turn it over to the developer.

Funding would come from several pots. The North Central Texas Council of Governments has committed $89.5 million and possibly $40.5 million more for project contingencies, according to the state Transportation Department.

The U.S. Transportation Department has invited the developer to apply for a federal loan of up to $537 million under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. The developer would then chip in $273 million in private activity bonds and $446 million in equity.

The agreement would also cover maintenance costs.

"We have been working together with the state for the past three years designing and building the first phase of the North Tarrant Express project and look forward to getting this next segment along I-35W in Fort Worth under way," said Nicolas Rubio, president of Cintra US, which is part of NTE Mobility Partners.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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