State expected to free up funds to fix I-35W/Northeast Loop 820 interchange

One of the worst traffic bottlenecks north of downtown Fort Worth may be eliminated years ahead of schedule.

Today, the Texas Transportation Commission is expected to approve spending $150 million in state bond funds on rebuilding the Interstate 35W/Northeast Loop 820 interchange -- a confluence of overused freeways that previously wasn't scheduled to receive makeover money until 2018 or later.

Now it looks as if the interchange could be rebuilt by 2015, with a combination of new toll and nontoll lanes built in a partnership between the Texas Transportation Department and a private developer.

"The existing interchange is in relatively poor condition," John Barton, the department's assistant executive director, said Wednesday during a workshop. "The bridges are old. Capacity is limited because of the left-hand exits."

The commission is expected to approve the $150 million expenditure during its regular meeting in Austin. However, it could be a month or two before a private developer, hired to plan the Northeast Loop 820/Airport Freeway corridor, unveils details about how the money will be used.

North Tarrant Express

The developer, NTE Mobility Partners, is led by the U.S. arm of Spain-based Cintra. NTE Mobility Partners is working on a plan to expand I-35W from Interstate 30 near downtown Fort Worth to U.S. 287 near Alliance Airport, including constructing managed toll lanes and reconstructing existing nontoll lanes.

The work would be part of the North Tarrant Express project, which is expected to begin this year with the expansion of Northeast Loop 820 in Haltom City and North Richland Hills, and Airport Freeway in Bedford and Hurst. Collectively, the effort includes more than $2 billion in expenditures, with less than $600 million coming from state coffers.

At the I-35W/Northeast Loop 820 interchange, the $150 million in state bond funds would be used on the nontoll components of the intersection and the developer would be responsible for building connections between proposed toll lanes on Interstate 35W and Northeast Loop 820. The $150 million is expected to come from Proposition 14 bond funds, which are debt instruments approved by the Legislature several years ago to be repaid over about 20 years by state gas taxes.

Unspent bond capacity

Initially, the I-35W/Northeast Loop 820 project was left off the list of Proposition 14 projects. But state transportation officials say that because of a poor economy, contractors are desperate for work and submitting low bids. As a result, the state has about $310 million in unspent bond capacity, officials said.

The only other Dallas-Fort Worth project on the list is $30 million worth of interchange improvements at I-35E and Farm Road 407 in Denton County.

Today's action will likely be cheered by business owners and commuters along the Alliance Corridor, who were enraged last year to learn that the I-35W interchange was not part of the first phase of the North Tarrant Express.

GORDON DICKSON, 817-390-7796

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