The drive between Denton and Dallas is going to get easier — eventually.
Massive toll lanes running alongside Interstate 35E in northwest Dallas are set to open soon, which will alleviate congestion between I-35E and Interstate 635 (LBJ Freeway). But not all the connectors designed to feed the toll lanes have been added to the highway. Until more roadwork is completed, the new bridges will only offer short, tolled connections between the existing free lanes of I-35E and I-635.
In Denton County, construction continues on the 35Express project and the expansion of the interstate that will tie into the Dallas project.
“We work very closely with LBJ Express on the south end of the project,” said Kimberly Sims, spokeswoman for 35Express. “There are times when we need to coordinate work and closures to be as efficient as possible and lessen impacts on the traveling public.”
Sims said the 35Express project’s managed-lane system will tie into I-635’s managed-lane system near the intersection of both roadways. The 35Express managed-lane system will stretch from the Turbeville/Swisher Road area in Hickory Creek south to I-635.
Also, the system is reversible. The lanes will flow southbound in the morning and northbound in the evening, and there will be 11 access points along with shoulders and perches for law enforcement officials.
“Managed lanes are an innovative congestion management tool that also allows TxDOT to maintain current facilities as well as fund new roadways,” Sims said.
“What we would like to stress about the system is that it gives commuters a choice,” she said. “They can stay on the free lanes or choose to use the managed-lane system.”
Traffic in the managed-lane system is expected to flow at 50 mph and toll fees will be variable, depending on the amount of congestion in the lanes.
“Whatever the rate is when you enter the system will be the rate that you pay until you decide to exit,” Sims said. “These lanes are not designed for the motorist who wants to go from one exit to the other, but for the driver that wants to get from Denton to Dallas in a more expedient manner.”
Though the raised roads run alongside I-35E, they are actually the second phase of the I-635 widening. Perhaps more important, the connectors are also the third installment in North Texas’ emerging system of managed toll lanes, believed to be the largest planned network of its kind in America.
Transportation officials have a long-range vision for this system, which will feature 100 miles of managed toll lanes by the end of 2019. But leaders understand the point of their planning might not yet be apparent from the driver’s seat, since managed toll lanes so far only appear in sporadic, unconnected locations.
I-635 introduced Dallas drivers to managed toll lanes in December, when some opened on a stretch from Preston Road to Greenville Avenue. Since then, more than 525,000 drivers have used those lanes.
The new I-35E connectors will end in the portion of I-635 that is still under construction. That third and last phase of the expansion will add managed toll lanes from Luna to Preston roads. The opening of that final section by the end of next year will create seamless connections with the new bridges to I-35E and the existing toll lanes between Preston and Greenville.
Managed toll lanes also opened on the DFW Connector in April. Still more toll lanes are key parts of planned expansions and renovations on I-35E through Denton County, Loop 12, Interstate 30 on both sides of downtown Dallas, and State Highways 183 and 114.
One of the new bridges will eventually tie into the coming managed lanes on the northern stretch of I-35E. Another will connect to the planned toll lanes on Loop 12.
Donna Huerta, a TxDOT spokeswoman, said commuters will appreciate that they will never have to sit in their car for extended periods of driving time.
“It will be an amazing trip for people who commute, [as] they will never have to get on the main lanes coming from downtown Dallas,” she said. “They will be home in less time than sitting in the traffic going over the bridge.”
Officials hope to announce the opening date of the bridges late next week.
Dallas Morning News staff writer Brandon Formby contributed to this report.
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjLewisDRC.