On a normal day, driving on gridlocked Interstate 35W between downtown and far north Fort Worth can be a hair-pulling, brow-sweating experience.
And it's about to get even worse, as later this year the Texas Department of Transportation and its private partners begin a complete makeover of the highway, which is being modernized and expanded with toll lanes. To make room for the roughly $1.6 billion worth of road work, a massive work zone stretching from near I-30 downtown to just south of Alliance Airport likely will be in place through 2018.
But just in time for that gorilla of a driving headache, a little relief in the form of public transportation may be also on the horizon.
A new bus service to downtown Fort Worth is scheduled to be launched in late spring — probably no later than June, Fort Worth Transportation Authority officials said.
Riders will be able to catch buses three times each morning at a new park-and-ride lot on the southbound side of I-35W, between Golden Triangle Boulevard and Heritage Trace Parkway. The buses will make a return trip from downtown back to the Alliance area three times each afternoon.
“As the traffic gets worse, you’re going to find more people are going to ride,” said Cindy Sears-Clemmons, a sales manager at Jacobs engineering firm in downtown Fort Worth. She already rides the lone other regular bus route offered by the T in her neighborhood — Route 62 Summerfields Express — but that bus only arrives in her far north Fort Worth neighborhood once each morning and returns only once each afternoon.
Although Summerfields Express service will be still be available, she looks forward to taking the new Alliance corridor route and its options of multiple departures and arrivals per day.
“The bus gives me ‘life balance,’ ” she said, referring to rigidity of the bus schedule that in essence draws a divide between her work and personal time. The roughly half-hour bus ride each way, she says, is a stress-free buffer between those worlds. “I read USA Today, the New York Times app and E books. I’ve taken conference calls on the bus, too.”
Let the bus driver
handle traffic hassles
Residents who want to learn more about the planned new bus service may attend a public hearing Feb. 10 in downtown Fort Worth. The transportation authority, also known as the T, is scheduled to approve the opening of the new route during its regular monthly board meeting Feb. 17.
The T hasn’t finalized a schedule but hopes to have morning departures from the new park-and-ride lot, which is under construction, at roughly 5:35, 6:11 and 6:50 a.m. The trip downtown would typically take 35 to 50 minutes, so those buses would arrive at their destination at about 6:10, 6:51 and 7:40 a.m., said Curvie Hawkins, T assistant vice president for planning.
Afternoon trips would leave downtown at roughly 4:20, 5:15 and 5:50 p.m. — and arrive back at the park-and-ride at about 5:10, 6:05 and 6:40 p.m., respectively.
In far north Fort Worth, the route will only stop at the park-and-ride lot, so it won’t serve Alliance area businesses — at least not yet. But once it’s downtown, the bus will make multiple stops in the central business district, so riders can have a shorter walk to work, he said.
T officials wouldn’t rule out eventually adding more far north Fort Worth stops for the buses, if riders show up and in essence demand that service, said T service planner Phillip Dupler. But first those T officials just want to get the new park-and-ride open and the bus service operational.
“We don’t yet know how construction is going to impact ridership,” he said.
Between Alliance and downtown, the bus will be scheduled to follow I-35W, but the driver and dispatchers will have the discretion to use alternate routes such as Sylvania Avenue and North Main Street to get downtown on days when I-35W is especially clogged, he said.
For riders, the benefit won’t necessarily be saved time, T officials said. Instead, it will be a better use of their time. Instead of coping with traffic, riders can take a nap, use their mobile devices or make new friends on the bus — while a professional driver handles the traffic hassles.
A precise price for bus fare hasn’t been publicized, but today a monthly pass for riding the T costs $60 for a bus-only pass — or $80 to $160 for those who also want to ride the Trinity Railway Express to Dallas. Lower fares are available for children, seniors and people with disabilities — and many downtown employers subsidize the cost of transit for employees.
T officials say it’s too early to project how many people may want to ride the Alliance express buses.
Several years ago, the T highly publicized the opening of two new express routes to north and south Arlington — but those services never really caught on, attracting fewer than 100 riders per day. The Arlington express routes have since been discontinued.
The trip from Arlington to downtown Fort Worth on I-30 and I-20 was rarely congested, possibly limiting the potential audience for the bus. In far north Fort Worth, however, a 12-mile trip downtown commonly takes 45 minutes or more — and residents often complain that they’re losing valuable hours of the day just commuting.
The stretch of I-35W between I-30 and North 28th Street in Fort Worth is considered the worst leg of road in the state, according to a publication titled “100 Most Congested Roadways,” by the state transportation department.
That stretch of road, which shrinks from three lanes in each direction to two, causes motorists to waste more than 2 million hours collectively, according to the report.
On I-35W, some early steps toward construction are already underway, said officials with the North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners, the private consortium that has hired to do the job. NTE Mobility Partners also has been working on Loop 820 expansion — which is now 80 percent complete — for much of the past four years.
The state transportation department has entered into an agreement with NTE Mobility Partners to rebuild existing lanes — and keep them toll-free — as well as modernize ramps and add two toll lanes in each direction. The developer would build the section from I-30 to Loop 820 and maintain it until 2061 — and keep tolls generated on the managed lanes during those years.
TxDOT would build the portion from north of Loop 820 to U.S. 287 at an estimated cost of $234 million, then turn it over to the developer.
ALLIANCE BUS SERVICE
Details of a proposed bus route from a new park-and-ride lot to downtown Fort Worth will be discussed during a public hearing.
When: Noon Feb. 10.
Where: Intermodal Transportation Center, 1001 Jones St., downtown Fort Worth.
More info: Written and oral comments from residents are welcome. For more details, visit www.the-t.com.
Source: Fort Worth Transportation Authority