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Panel approves contract for Interstate 35W road construction

03/04/2013 10:50 PM

03/14/2013 4:41 PM

Tarrant County is in the midst of a historical road construction boom, and the next phase will be aimed at motorists chugging between downtown Fort Worth and Alliance Airport.

Beginning by the end of the year, Interstate 35W will be rebuilt from Interstate 30 to north of the U.S. 81/287 cutoff in far north Fort Worth -- and drivers can expect to be navigating narrow lanes related to that project through mid-2018.

The Texas Transportation Commission last week approved its portion of the project.

The move clears the way for the state's private development partner, NTE Mobility Partners Segment 3 LLC, to proceed with financial closure.

Despite the promise of orange-barrel headaches for the next five or so years, businesses along the I-35W corridor are hailing the project as a long-term tonic to ensure decades of prosperity for far north Fort Worth and surrounding cities.

"All our business prospects coming to town, they're looking for certainty on the freeways," said Russell Laughlin, senior vice president of Hillwood Properties, which has developed the AllianceTexas project that now employs more than 30,000 people in far north Fort Worth.

"How can we have businesses here if we can't move goods and can't get employees in and out?"

The road work is expected to nearly double traffic capacity of the I-35W corridor, at a cost of about $1.6 billion. The funding is being provided by NTE Mobility Partners' private-equity investors, private-activity bonds issued by the developer, federal transportation dollars and contributions from the Texas Department of Transportation and North Central Texas Council of Governments.

The developer is the same group currently expanding Northeast Loop 820 and Texas 121/183 in Northeast Tarrant County, a project known as North Tarrant Express.

The work is actually two separate, simultaneous projects. The segment from I-30 to Loop 820 is expected to cost $1.4 billion and will be built by NTE Mobility Partners.

The segment from Loop 820 to north of U.S. 287 is $244 million and will be built as a traditional highway project by the state transportation department. However, once the work is complete the segment will be turned over to NTE Mobility Partners for long-term management and care.

The project represents years worth of work by civic leaders to draw attention to the need for traffic improvements in the area. A group known as the 35W Coalition, which includes business owners and city and county leaders, has been fighting for funds since early 2006.

"The reconstruction of 35W has been on the drawing board for far too long. It's time to move dirt in the name of mobility, safety and commerce for our residents and businesses," Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said in a statement. "Aside from being a gateway linking the United States with Mexico and Canada, 35W is the backbone of Fort Worth's transportation system."

Gordon Dickson,

817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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