Construction on Interstate 35W has hit a new level of intensity as lanes are closed and traffic is rerouted along 8 miles from downtown Fort Worth to Meacham and Western Center boulevards.
The changing pattern of concrete barriers and orange barrels is wreaking havoc on morning and afternoon drives — and the work is expected to continue until 2018.
“Everywhere was backed up. Cars were running red lights, swerving through lanes and cutting people off because they were frustrated by so much congestion,” said Andrea Bonjour, an information technology project manager at BNSF Railway. The company’s headquarters is on Western Center Boulevard.
On Tuesday night, Bonjour arranged to meet colleagues at Flips Patio Grill, just down the street from their workplace. But she had to take a most unusual detour to avoid the gridlock on Western Center: She diverted to Mark IV Parkway, Meacham Boulevard and North Riverside Drive to get to the restaurant on time.
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“I went 10 miles out of my way to make it to a destination that was less than a mile from my origin,” she said. “It took me 30 minutes to get to Flips, and that was still faster than going down Western Center.”
The $1.4 billion project includes full reconstruction of I-35W from I-30 near downtown Fort Worth to North Tarrant Parkway, a few miles south of Alliance Airport. It features modernized ramps and frontage roads, and the addition of two toll express lanes in each direction.
Many of the changes taking place this week will remain in place for up to two years, officials said.
“This is the beginning of heavy construction, and we want to continue to encourage folks to plan ahead and really pay attention to the signs in place and watch their speeds,” project spokeswoman Heather DeLapp said.
Western Center Boulevard
Normally, Western Center Boulevard is a six-lane east-west thoroughfare often used by commuters to travel between Saginaw and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. But this week, workers have reduced it to two lanes in each direction to make room for expanding the intersection. Dedicated left- and right-turn lanes were also removed.
Several people who work in the area said their trips are taking about 25 minutes longer now.
Expect the traffic squeeze for eight months, Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Peters said.
“It is a tight area to maintain traffic and construct a new road, but staff has worked to minimize impacts and reduced the original schedule from 12 to eight months,” Peters said. “We appreciate the motorists’ patience during construction, and we will continue to evaluate if there are additional improvements that can be made to the traffic control.”
Beginning at 9 p.m. Thursday, getting to Meacham Boulevard will also be more of a headache.
Motorists who take westbound Loop 820 to southbound I-35W can no longer exit at Meacham Boulevard. The southbound main lanes will be shifted to the new toll express lanes to make room for reconstruction of the main lanes.
As a result, traffic that has just joined southbound I-35W from Loop 820 will not have access to the Meacham Boulevard exit. But motorists who join the southbound I-35W traffic from north of Loop 820 can still exit at Meacham Boulevard.
A detour will be posted on westbound Loop 820 for motorists wishing to get to Meacham Boulevard. They will be urged to proceed west to Mark IV Parkway and turn south.
The change is expected to remain in place for two years, DeLapp said.
The loss of access to Meacham Boulevard will be particularly painful for roughly 65 companies that employ about 12,000 people in the Mercantile industrial district of north Fort Worth, Mercantile Partners President Brian Randolph said.
“Depending upon which direction you’re coming from, for many people it’s the main way to get here,” Randolph said, adding that many in the area are still recovering from the four-year expansion of Loop 820 completed last year.
“There’s certainly a level of frustration that comes up in Mercantile after living through all the work done to Beach Street and Loop 820,” he said.
But he said access has dramatically improved at North Beach Street. And the project managers along I-35W and the Texas Department of Transportation have done a good job informing Mercantile employers about traffic changes, he said.
Once the I-35W expansion is completed, a new form of access will be built for westbound Loop 820 traffic trying to get to Meacham Boulevard. Traffic will be able to exit southbound I-35W at a new exit planned south of Meacham Boulevard, then loop back toward Meacham on a new frontage road.
Beginning at 9 p.m. Friday, motorists heading downtown from places such as south Fort Worth and Crowley may find a major detour on their usual route.
The northbound I-35W exit to downtown from Spur 280 will close for about a year. Traffic will be rerouted in a somewhat snaky, nearly mile-long detour that involves exiting northbound I-35W at Texas 121, then taking access roads under Texas 121 as well as I-35W to Pharr Street.
Or motorists can access downtown by exiting northbound I-35W at Lancaster Avenue.
Motorists who want to keep up with lane changes and detours along the I-35W corridor may visit North Tarrant Express online.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796