The Texas Department of Transportation wants more land for the expansion of Interstate 35E.
In April 2012, TxDOT officials were assuring property owners along the path of the planned expansion of I-35E that their homes and businesses were safe from being bought by the agency and that TxDOT would begin the first phase of expansion in the existing right of way.
But now, officials are buying up land they will need for the second phase of the project and sending out 500 letters to property owners offering them a payout for their property.
“They’ve decided to move forward with obtaining right of way for both phases,” said Donna Huerta, a spokeswoman for TxDOT.
Phase 2 won’t begin until after Phase 1 is built and funds become available for the next phase, she said.
“We’re not sure if that is three years or 10 years,” she said. “In the meantime, TxDOT wants to move forward and obtain right of way for both, which is a very positive move.”
The expansion project in the 28-mile interstate corridor between Denton and Carrollton is set to improve existing lanes, provide continuous frontage roads and construct reversible managed toll lanes to keep traffic moving at least 50 mph.
Denton County transportation consultant John Polster described Phase 1 as covering the highway from Interstate 635 to U.S. Highway 380, adding two reversible managed lanes and one general-purpose lane in each direction, mostly within the existing right of way.
Phase 2 would involve adding two more managed lanes in each direction and reconstructing the frontage road and all bridges that cross I-35E, which would require additional right of way.
Huerta said property owners will be pleased to know what is coming down the pike on Phase 2, even if it is several years away.
“Very soon the right of way division of TxDOT will be getting all that together and reaching out to people affected by both phases,” she said. “It won’t happen overnight.”
Brian Robertson, owner of Comet Cleaners in Denton, has a second location in Corinth in the expansion path. He said he has not heard or seen anything about the letters, but would like to know as soon as possible what will be happening around his location so he can prepare for it.
Because he is a tenant, Robertson thought the letter might go to the building’s owner first before he is told about it.
“I do not know the logistics of how that works. I suppose I am in a holding pattern until I hear something,” he said.
Robertson said he understands roads and progress, but said the issue is state officials not being certain of what they want to do.
“Where I have a problem is they are on-again, off-again, and we’re all hanging out here,” he said.
Robertson is concerned about one question: When notices come to property owners, how much time do they have?
He said his business sits in a strategic location on the west side of I-35E in Corinth near FM2181, and a change for him would mean purchasing land and building a new store.
“Obviously, I can’t do that in a short time frame,” he said. “I don’t know until they do make an offer or notify me what is going to happen. I am hoping in this area they have enough land and I won’t be impacted.
“I am hanging here. I have 20 employees who support their families from this business. I certainly will try to do everything I can to keep it open.”
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Andy Eads touted the county’s continued advocacy for the expansion project and the fact that property owners along the corridor will be able to sell their property now, regardless of the phase of the project.
“People can make business decisions to relocate or redevelop their property if they are being impacted by the expansion,” Eads said.
Huerta said TxDOT officials signed a contract with AGL Constructors on Friday and now have the first notice to proceed. AGL, a consortium that includes Archer Western Contractors LLC, Granite Construction Co. and Lane Construction Corp., can begin testing, boring, and locating utility lines along the corridor. Three months from now, they should be able to begin construction.
“Once that happens, it will start moving quickly,” Huerta said.
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.