Chisholm Trail Parkway almost here

05/03/2014 12:00 AM

05/02/2014 7:20 PM

Fort Worth and Cleburne are about to get a little closer together — not in terms of miles, but certainly in minutes.

The North Texas Tollway Authority plans to open its 28-mile Chisholm Trail Parkway in one week, weather permitting. The toll road will run from Interstate 30 near downtown Fort Worth to U.S. 67 in Cleburne.

Heading south along that route today, once you get beyond the growth areas of southwest Fort Worth there’s a lot of prairie before you pull into Cleburne.

If history is any guide, in a few years North Texans will look at commercial and residential development along the toll road and say, like Texans have said about a lot of other places across the state and certainly in Dallas-Fort Worth, “I can remember when this was all just open land.”

Some planners say the days of urban sprawl are over, that the future will see much more inner-city redevelopment and “walkable” neighborhoods.

There’s probably a lot of truth to that, but there is still a need for closer connections between growing cities like Fort Worth and Cleburne.

And where roads are built to make those connections, commercial and residential development will follow to meet the desires of people who want to live there.

The Chisholm Trail Parkway, as most people in Fort Worth know, is no overnight miracle.

It’s been in the works for more than 50 years, first as the proposed Southwest Freeway and later a toll road when it became clear tolls would be necessary to pay some of the $1.6 billion cost.

Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Johnson County, the Texas Department of Transportation and the federal government all have money in the project, too.

Folks in Cleburne wanted their part called Chisholm Trail, like the historic cattle drive route. Taking that name for the entire route seemed like a good idea.

It won’t all open immediately. Major interchanges at Interstate 30 and Interstate 20 won’t be finished for maybe another six months, so drivers will have to take entrance ramps from other major roads.

But after celebratory fun runs and bike rides next Saturday for people who want that sort of up-close-and-personal feel for the new roadway, all main lanes are scheduled to open on Sunday.

There may be some delay if rain between now and then keeps workers from making finishing touches. But odds of a lot of rain haven’t been good lately.

Former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr, now the NTTA chairman, told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board the push has been on to open the road ASAP.

“This enables us to get the service going for the people in the region,” Barr said.

There are no free rides; tolls will be collected from Day 1.

Driving most of the route will cost 16.2 cents per mile, but there’s an extra 4 cents per mile on the northernmost portion to pay for landscaping and other enhancements that Fort Worth residents said they wanted.

Traveling the 28-mile route would cost $4.91 for drivers with an electronic TollTag, $7.37 for those who prefer to have NTTA computers read their license plates and send a bill in the mail. There are no toll booths.

Given that the cost without a TollTag is 50 percent higher, and NTTA can block vehicle registration renewals for habitual and persistent nonpayers, and TollTags are available online, on the phone or at more than 250 locations (including an NTTA store to be opened south of Hulen Mall), it’s a good idea to get one.

No account of the long birth process for the Southwest Freeway/Chisholm Trail Parkway can be complete without tribute to a long list of Fort Worth leaders who brought it about.

There have been trials and setbacks galore. At times, like when it appeared that there was no solution to get the roadway across the Union Pacific Railroad’s huge Davidson Yard, the whole project seemed hopeless.

But people persisted. It became more than a road; it was a cause.

And now it’s really going to open.

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