Arlington celebrates I-30 project, but Barton adds caution

ARLINGTON -- Business and political leaders gathered Thursday to celebrate the completion of the $166 million makeover of Interstate 30. But they also heard a word of warning from an area congressman.

The I-30 "Three Bridges" project, which ensures that Arlington will have a smooth traffic corridor leading to Rangers Ballpark and Cowboys Stadium for decades to come, may be the last tax-funded project of its size to come to Tarrant County for years, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton said.

The Arlington Republican said he's glad that the project went forward, although he acknowledged that three times he voted against the federal highway bill that provided most of the funding for it. Barton noted the irony Thursday when he was among the dignitaries who took refuge from a brisk autumn wind in a white tent on the new Baird Farm Road/Legends Way bridge to celebrate the end of nearly four years of construction.

Barton, who was re-elected Tuesday, is among the senior House Republicans leading the call for a federal spending rollback.

"You couldn't say to the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers and the merchants along the I-30 corridor, 'I'm sorry, we can't fix the highway.' But for the next four to five years in Washington, we're going to have to figure out how to do more with less," Barton told about 100 people who huddled at the bridge. "Especially in Washington, we're spending a trillion and a half dollars we don't have every year. We've got to rethink the equation."

Radical redo

Despite Barton's dose of reality, the mood was mostly festive at the ceremony, sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation. Members of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce were thanked for publicly supporting the project and pushing it to the region's front burner beginning in 2002.

The road work was completed on time -- three months before Super Bowl XLV, on Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium. The main contractor, W.W. Webber, received $2.19 million in incentives for hitting construction milestones built into the contract.

The project included reconstruction of the Collins Street overpass and new bridges at Center Street and Baird Farm Road. I-30 now also includes a high-occupancy-vehicle lane that can be used by car poolers heading to work or a ballgame.

The reversible HOV lane has a special exit that dumps vehicles directly into ballpark parking areas -- an innovative idea that's expected to be vital to moving Super Bowl traffic.

I-30's main lanes were lowered into the earth by nearly 20 feet to make room for the new bridges. The old cloverleaf ramps -- a relic of the road's days as the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike -- were replaced by continuous one-way frontage roads.

Festive mood

Chamber President Wes Jurey thanked Arlington council members for setting aside millions of dollars to start the initial planning. He said the road will ensure that Arlington keeps up with the region's population and economic growth.

"You can't develop or redevelop any area if you can't bring people and products into that area," Jurey said.

Several other big-dollar projects are under way in Tarrant County, but they're being partially funded with alternative revenue sources such as tolls, debt and private investment.

They include Southwest Parkway/Chisholm Trail Parkway in Fort Worth, the DFW Connector in Grapevine and the North Tarrant Express in Northeast Tarrant County. The last one involves expanding parts of Loop 820, Airport Freeway and I-35W.

The DFW Connector, a sprawling $1 billion project, received $250 million in stimulus money, the most of any project in the country.

Southwest Parkway also got $143.9 million in federal funds from the North Central Texas Council of Governments. The money is for its interchange with I-20.

Barton also voted against a $787 billion stimulus bill that included funding for highways.

Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck noted the fine details of the I-30 project, including murals on the freeway walls that pay tribute to the city's sports and amusement park heritage and its close ties to its General Motors plant.

"It tells the history of the area. It tells the history of a great city," Cluck said. "It positions the city, the county, the business community and all the other entities for success in the future."

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

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