Honkin' Mad

Why Texas is allowing motorists to drive on the shoulder of this highway

Motorists sick of sitting in traffic on Texas 121 in Bedford will get some relief by 2020, in the form of an unusual traffic fix.

The solution involves allowing motorists to drive on the shoulder of the four-lane Texas 121 in Bedford — a practice that normally would be illegal.

About two miles of Texas 121 between the Texas 121/183 merge and Cheek-Sparger Road/Mid-Cities Boulevard will soon be expanded with an extra lane in each direction, by converting some of the fast-lane shoulder into additional lane space. But the extra lanes — sometimes called “peak hour lanes” — will be open only to traffic during “rush hour” periods of weekday mornings and afternoons.

Signs will be installed to let drivers know when it’s OK to use the lanes.

“The project will widen the inside shoulder of SH (state highway) 121 that will act as an additional lane during peak use periods,” Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Val Lopez said.

The area in question suffers from an extreme bottleneck, as Texas 121 shrinks from six to four lanes between Cheek-Sparger Road and Glade Road in Euless. It’s not uncommon for traffic to back up for several miles, sometimes as far north as William D. Tate Avenue in Grapevine.

The gridlock was mentioned by Grapevine resident Cindy Jones, who was among dozens of readers who responded to a new Star-Telegram online news feature dubbed “Honkin’ Mad.” On the Honkin’ Mad page of the Star-Telegram’s digital editions, readers are encouraged to ask traffic questions, which can be answered by a reporter and featured in news stories.

Jones wrote on her Honkin’ Mad submission: “121 South through Grapevine into Bedford. It always backs up at the Glade exit down into HEB since they put in the toll lane. What’s going to be done to make this more efficient?”

Texas 121 in Bedford has not had major improvements in years, while other roads such as the Texas 114/121 DFW Connector in Grapevine and the Texas 121/183 North Tarrant Express in Hurst, Euless and Bedford have undergone billions of dollars worth of improvements — including the addition of toll lanes.

Peak hour lanes

The peak hour lanes technique has been used on Texas 161 in Irving, on several miles of the highway wedged between segments of the President George Bush Turnpike. Those lanes are open 6 to 10 a.m. and 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays.

(Many motorists may use that portion of Texas 161, which extends from just south of Texas 114 to south of Texas 183, without realizing it’s not officially a part of the Bush Turnpike.)

In Irving, the special lanes opened in 2015. They are marked by a solid white stripe, and motorists are expected to treat them as shoulders during off-peak periods, although it’s not unusual to see people driving on them at all hours.

A study of car crashes on Texas 161 before and after the peak hour lanes were installed determined the lanes didn’t cause additional accidents, according to a report recently presented to the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

Why not make the new lanes permanent?

It can take many years for a permanent highway improvement to be drawn up and studied by engineers. Even when that initial work is done, it can take many more years before state and federal funding becomes available to do the work.

The peak lanes are considered a temporary solution that can be done relatively quickly, until the permanent fix is ready, Lopez said.

But even the temporary solution can take time. Lopez said the contract for the Texas 121 peak hour lanes is scheduled to be awarded in September, followed by construction near year.

If all goes smoothly, the new Texas 121 peak hour lanes will be open to traffic some time in 2020, he said.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796; @gdickson