Luckily for Ray Green, his smoked ribs have enough of a culinary following that customers are willing to take long detours around an enormous highway project to get to his restaurant.
Just a block from Ray Green’s North Main BBQ establishment in Euless, the Main Street bridge over Texas 183 in Euless was demolished in June. A replacement bridge likely won’t be completed until late next spring.
Because of the missing structure, north Euless is effectively cut off from south Euless, and many of Green’s customers must take detours of up to 15 minutes to get to his buffet-style barbecue. It’s one of many inconveniences motorists and area residents are experiencing as the mammoth project known as Midtown Express — an $847 million job that will add toll lanes to Texas 183, Loop 12 and Texas 114 in the Euless-Irving area — kicks into high gear.
“It’s like living on the other side of a border,” Green said one recent morning, as he showed visitors the construction zone that has effectively reduced traffic on North Main Street — once home to more than 20,000 vehicles per day, according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments — to barely a trickle.
Meanwhile, a river of freeway traffic — about 129,000 vehicles per day — roars by on Texas 183, at the bottom of a dirt and concrete canyon that was created when the Main Street bridge was removed.
“It’s like having the Rio Grande with no bridge,” he said.
The Midtown Express includes reconstruction and widening of Texas 183 from roughly Industrial Boulevard in Euless to Loop 12 in Irving, as well as Loop 12 to Interstate 35E and Texas 114 from the Dallas Fort Worth Airport north entrance in Grapevine to Texas 183. In all, it’s more than 27 miles of rebuilt main lanes, improved frontage roads and the addition of managed toll lanes.
Other than the flurry of activity in Euless, most of the work is in Dallas County. But it’s complementary to the $2 billion-plus North Tarrant Express project that was completed in the Fort Worth area in 2014. The two projects together will dramatically improve the region’s network of managed toll lanes, as well as modernize existing toll-free lanes.
As the holiday season arrives, the Midtown Express project is hitting high gear, an official said. The work is scheduled to continue through 2018.
“We are almost 40 percent complete,” said Selma Santin, spokeswoman for SouthGate Constructors, the firm overseeing the project for the Texas Department of Transportation. “There’s still a lot of intersection work to be done. Every major intersection on this project is basically under construction right now.”
Even though the work is at its peak, commuters, shoppers and other area residents will get some breaks during the upcoming holidays. Clauses in the contract between the state transportation agency and SouthGate mandate that work be as unobtrusive as possible during holiday periods so people can carry on with their travel plans and shopping.
For example, the first holiday “blackout period” runs Nov. 22-28, and during that time there will be no lane closures, Santin said. Similar blackout periods will occur during Christmas and New Year’s, she said.
“It’s really to help those getting to the airport, and businesses also,” she said.
For commuters passing through Euless, Irving and Dallas, the project has created a bit of white-knuckle tension, as vehicles cram between concrete barriers on narrow lanes without shoulders. But for the most part during typical work hours, motorists have the same number of lanes available to them as they have always had, with most work taking place on the roadsides. So other than the inconvenience of orange barrels and concrete barriers, the project isn’t causing major delays or other traffic problems.
Major lane closures, for work such as bridge demolition, tends to take place at night and on weekends.
Hanging in there
Still, in areas such as Euless, many businesses are having a tough time around the clock.
Several stores along Texas 183, including a Long John Silvers, Starbucks, Wendy’s and Whataburger, shut their doors shortly after the road work began.
Others have done what they can to get by.
For a quarter-century, Andy Patel’s family has operated Euless Family Mart, a small convenience store north of Texas 183 where patrons can pick up bottled soft drinks, groceries and other fare.
But business is down more than 50 percent since the Main Street bridge was demolished.
“Out there it should be busy,” Patel said, pointing to a five-lane stretch of Main Street out the window that used to be lined with cars during weekday mornings. “But now it’s a ghost town.”
SouthGate Constructors frequently updates business owners in personal meetings as well as by email, Santin said. They discuss issues such as whether more orange traffic signs should be put up to help motorists locate driveways to businesses.
Green, Patel and a handful of other business owners said they have no complaints about the project. They are disappointed at how much business they have lost, but not surprised. They knew the highway and particularly the bridges were woefully inadequate and needed to be modernized, and that the work would take time.
They’re just hoping the project can be completed a few months ahead of schedule, so their businesses can get back to normal.
“You can have meetings all you want,” Green said, as he prepared to depart North Main BBQ with a catering load. “What I care about is, when are they going to get the bridge finished?”