Residents packed the Denton City Council chambers Tuesday night for the second of a trio of community meetings to brief the public on the expansion of Interstate 35E.
“I think they went well. I think the stakeholders had a lot of valid questions. It was great. We had an opportunity to address them and a great opportunity to tell them how they can stay up to date on the project,” said Kimberly Sims, public information manager with the 35Express project.
The project will make strides to relieve congestion on the interstate to help handle the growing number of commuters using the roadway, a major thoroughfare for the state.
The project will add general-purpose lanes, managed toll lanes and frontage road improvements from Interstate 635 in Dallas County to U.S. Highway 380 in Denton.
Existing lanes of the highway will remain free. Phase 1 of the project will add an additional free lane each way from State Highway 121 to U.S. 380, as well as two reversible managed lanes from I-635 to an area around Swisher and Turbeville roads. Phase 1 includes the expansion of the Lewisville Lake bridge.
The expansion had been billed as a 28-mile project for the past few years, but as meeting attendees found out recently, the Texas Department of Transportation has added two more miles to the project.
The extra miles come from direct-connect ramps from the I-635 managed lane system to the I-35E managed lane system.
“Our contract is still what it is — still a $1.4 billion project,” Sims said. “But it did push our timeline out to mid-2017.”
She said officials are confident that through the design-build method of construction, they will be able to meet deadlines set in place by TxDOT.
Funding for the project will be a joint effort between TxDOT, the Regional Transportation Council and multiple regional partners.
Sims said motorists should see some action Monday, beginning on the southbound frontage road near FM407.
“You should see some crews doing some clearing and grubbing. And [in Denton] on U.S. Highway 77 and Pennsylvania Drive off to the side, they will be getting ready to work on some of the drainage in the area.”
During a question-and-answer portion of the meeting, Sims and other project officials fielded questions about toll amounts, motorists’ use of the toll lanes and the effects of the expansion on area roads and neighborhoods.
Many who spoke commented that Sims and others at TxDOT should drive the roads themselves to experience the issues being noted by the crowd.
Sims said she felt the agency has done its due diligence.
“This project has been under study for several years. Things have been looked at,” she said. “The beauty of the design-build is — as we are going along — there is some flexibility.”
Sims said changes to the plans can be incorporated into future construction.
As construction ramps up, agency officials still are needing to purchase a number of properties along the I-35E corridor. But Sims assured attendees that the rights of way have been acquired for areas where construction is about to start.
“We still have more right of way to acquire, so we’re working to get that done and complete — it just depends on where it is,” she said. “The right of way discussions are mainly between our right of way department and residents. We’re hoping to wrap this up sooner than later.”
Sims noted that funds have been identified for acquisition of right of way properties.
Charles Holmans and his wife, Priscilla, who have lived on Pennsylvania Drive for a number of years, said that while the agency’s presentation was great, they were concerned about the project’s effects on their neighborhood.
“All the traffic coming south on 35E sees Pennsylvania as an exit. All those people that pull off are not residents of Denton. They are trying to get south and beat the traffic,” Charles Holmans said.
“I think this presentation today was very, very good,” he said. “They certainly know most of their issues. There’s always someone in the crowd who is going to come up with something particular to them. It doesn’t always mean it’s a [total] Denton-related thing.”
The third meeting in the current round of community gatherings will be at 6 p.m. Monday at Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theater, 100 N. Charles St. in Lewisville.
More information is available at www.35Express.org.
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter @BjlewisDRC.