Sikandar Choudhury watched traffic zip across the Northeast Loop 820 bridge over Beach Street, carrying his profits with it.
“Losing the offramp was a devastating blow,” Choudhury said.
This week the Beach Street offramp that once brought eastbound Loop 820 traffic to his gas station/convenience store, and several hotels and restaurants was permanently closed. The store Choudhury opened in 1999 at the Beach Street/Loop 820 intersection did a booming business for several years. But in the three years since construction started on the North Tarrant Express project started, business has steadily declined, he said.
The closure has been planned since the agreement to build the $2.5 billion project was signed in 2009 by officials of NTE Mobility Partners, the main developer, and the Texas Department of Transportation, said the developer’s spokesman, Robert Hinkle.
“We knew the impact it will have,” Hinkle said. “We put it off as long as we could.”
Getting rid of the offramp was necessary because of “the design configuration involving traffic weaving and traffic movement,” Hinkle said. “It’s a safety issue.”
A new exit ramp with access to Beach Street and Riverside Drive is scheduled to be built in the next phase of the NTE project, which includes work on Interstate 35W, said Tony Hartzel, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation.
But there is no way to predict when a new Beach Street ramp will be built, “because the final design isn’t complete,” Hinkle said. “Until that’s done they can’t begin sequencing and scheduling of construction activities.”
A tough road for businesses
For now, eastbound drivers determined to reach Beach Street must continue to the Haltom Road exit and make a U-turn to the westbound service road. That’s about a 3-mile detour. Or drivers can take Haltom Road to Northern Cross Boulevard and cut through a residential neighborhood to Beach.
Until the offramp is replaced, the businesses — including IHOP, Texas Roadhouse and Redneck Heaven restaurants, and such hotels and motels as Budget Suites of America, Candlewood Suites, Homewood Suites, Comfort Suites, Motel 6 and Super 8 — will have to hang on the best they can.
Jay Patel said that when he and his family opened the Super 8 more than 15 years ago, it was the first hotel south of Loop 820 on Beach Street. Unlike some of the others that followed, where guests rent suites by the week or month, Super 8 is designed to attract travelers who are looking for a place to spend a night.
“Midprice hotels depend on walk-in business to survive,” said Patel, 57. “Walk-in business is zero, because they can see the hotel, but they can’t get to it.”
The steady decrease in guests as construction made getting to the Super 8 more difficult resulted in at least a half-million dollar annual revenue loss, Patel said. Even advance-booking business decreased.
“Online reviews say we are hard to get to,” Patel said. “We used to run 80 percent occupancy. Now it’s 60 percent.”
Choudhury, 58, said he thought Fort Worth officials would petition the state to keep the offramp open because it was such an important exit. Gas sales of 95,000 gallons per month at the height of his business dropped over the last three years to about 30,000 gallons per month.
“Now there’s been a [further] 50 percent decrease in traffic,” Choudhury said. “I thought that the construction would do me better, bring in more business.”
Progress along the NTE
The project holds the promise of being good for businesses farther east on Loop 820.
Haltom City is counting on new frontage roads to help open huge, previously inaccessible areas to development.
Other cities along the corridor have lost a few businesses to right-of-way acquisition, but gained others. North Richland Hills, Hurst, Bedford and Euless have seen dozens of restaurants and retailers build near the NTE in anticipation of its completion.
Hinkle said many major cross-streets along the project have been or will soon be fully opened, including Denton Highway (U.S. 377), Haltom Road, Brown Trail and Forest Ridge Drive.
And despite being hard to reach from Loop 820, Beach Street itself is completely open after months of frustrating closures.
“I think a lot of the major highway congestion has already taken place,” said NTE Mobility spokesman Tommy Williamson.
Hartzel said that the state will continue to work with businesses and residents to minimize the project’s impact, including loss of the Beach Street offramp.
“I don't have any specifics yet, but we are looking at it to see what if anything we can do,” Hartzel said.