Con­gested part of Loop 820 prob­a­bly won’t get new lanes un­til 2030

Star-Telegram - - Front Page - BY GOR­DON DICK­SON gdick­[email protected]­gram.com

Ev­ery day on her drive home from work, Kali Roberts is taken aback by the an­gry pile of mo­torists who con­verge on west­bound Loop 820 in North Rich­land Hills.

Traf­fic com­ing from Texas 121/183 “Air­port Free­way” must squeeze from four to two lanes be­tween Boule­vard 26 and Rufe Snow Drive, caus­ing grid­lock that per­sists not only dur­ing rush hour pe­ri­ods but most of the day.

Mean­while, as driv­ers on the nearby TEXPress lanes whiz by at 75 mph, mo­torists in the toll­free lanes crawl at about 10 mph and cut each other off, in­clud­ing many who drive il­le­gally on an un­usu­ally wide shoul­der.

“... I’m still ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the in­con­sid­er­ate driv­ers tak­ing the shoul­der be­fore Hol­i­day Lane in the west­bound lanes of 820,” Roberts said in a re­cent email to Honkin’ Mad, the Star-Tele­gram’s on­line fea­ture in which North Tex­ans are in­vited to sub­mit traf­fic ques­tions. “It re­ally does need a third lane to help with con­ges­tion.”

It’s a prob­lem the Texas Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion may not be able to fix un­til 2030, be­cause of an un­usual con­tract with a toll road part­ner­ship of com­pa­nies.

In 2009, the Texas Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion inked a con­tract with North Tar­rant Ex­press Mo­bil­ity Part­ners, a group of com­pa­nies that in­cludes Spain-based Cin­tra, Lux­em­bourg-based Meridiam In­fra­struc­ture and the Dal­las Po­lice and Fire Pen­sion Fund. Those com­pa­nies brought most of the money needed to ex­pand Loop 820 and Texas 121/183, in ex­change for the right to col­lect tolls on the TEXPress lanes for 52 years to re­pay them­selves and make a profit.

The North Tar­rant Ex­press project was funded for about $2.153 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the de­vel­oper’s con­tract with the state. The money used for the project in­cluded $570 mil­lion in tax-sup­ported state funds from the Texas Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, a $459.3 mil­lion sub­sidy bridge loan, $269.2 mil­lion in bond debt, $269.2 mil­lion in bank debt, a $538.4 mil­lion fed­eral trans­porta­tion loan and $457.9 mil­lion in eq­uity pro­vided by the part­ners.

Un­der the con­tract, the de­vel­oper must ini­ti­ate plans to build a third toll-free lane in each di­rec­tion on Loop 820 be­gin­ning July 1, 2029, and com­plete the work by Dec. 31, 2030.

That would be the lat­est the area should get traf­fic re­lief, a state of­fi­cial said.

“Cer­tain events may re­quire these to be built sooner,” James Bass, Texas Depart­ment of

Trans­porta­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said in a text sev­eral weeks ago.

The new toll-free lanes could be added sooner, based on a com­pli­cated for­mula that an­a­lyzes whether the money be­ing col­lected on the nearby toll lanes ex­ceeds a cer­tain level. It’s dif­fi­cult to spec­ify how much money would need to be col­lected for the new toll-free lanes to be built, be­cause it varies year to year and also de­pends upon North Tar­rant Ex­press Mo­bil­ity Part­ners’ an­nual ex­penses.

The con­tract also calls upon the Texas Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and North Tar­rant Ex­press Mo­bil­ity Part­ners to cal­cu­late jointly toll lane rev­enues each year, and de­ter­mine on an an­nual ba­sis whether the amount col­lected has hit the thresh­old needed to re­quire con­struc­tion of ad­di­tional lanes.

In ad­di­tion to adding a third toll-free lane in each di­rec­tion by 2030, the de­vel­oper must also add a third toll lane in each di­rec­tion, Bass said.

Lo­cally, of­fi­cials said they haven’t heard of any plans to add a third toll­free lane or a third toll lane. North Tar­rant Ex­press Mo­bil­ity Part­ners hasn’t an­nounced any new con­struc­tion sched­ule for the cor­ri­dor.

Os­car Trevino, mayor of North Rich­land Hills, is hope­ful that area mo­torists won’t have to wait 11 years for traf­fic re­lief.

“With all the traf­fic in that area, the ca­pac­ity is there to jus­tify adding an­other lane,” Trevino said in a phone in­ter­view.

Mean­while, Trevino said, North Rich­land Hills po­lice try to work traf­fic duty on west­bound Loop 820 when­ever they can — es­pe­cially pulling over mo­torists who drive on the shoul­der il­le­gally.

“We reg­u­larly en­force it with the mo­tor­cy­cle cops,” Trevino said, “but we can’t be there all the time.” Gor­don Dick­son: 817-390-7796, @gdick­son

MAX FAULKNER [email protected]­gram.com

Ve­hi­cles are of­ten grid­locked on this por­tion of west­bound Loop 820 in North Rich­land Hills, and not just at peak traf­fic times.

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