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Building momentum

Denton County commissioners got some good news Tuesday, and we should eventually be able to breathe a lot more easily as a result.

Not to mention having a far more comfortable commute along continually clogged Interstate 35E.

The commissioners received word that the final environmental hurdle had been cleared for the widening of I-35E. When plans for the highway’s expansion changed from one massive project to three smaller segments, each segment had to be cleared, and that has been accomplished.

During Tuesday’s regular Commissioners Court meeting, Commissioner Andy Eads read a letter sent by the Federal Highway Administration giving approval of the latest environmental analysis from the county.

“This letter indicates that the construction and phasing process will not be negatively impacting the air quality,” Commissioner Eads said.

Construction is expected to take four years but will result in better air quality when complete, Eads said.

Improved air quality may not be the first thought of weary commuters who dream of an improved roadway, but it’s of vital importance — not only to the well-being of our families, but also to our region’s future prosperity.

“Air quality is a real priority for Denton County and all of our regional partners since we have been in a non-attainment area,” Eads said. “We’re excited that by completing this project we will be improving the air quality in the years to come by improving the mobility north and south.”

Think of some of the traffic jams that you’ve seen on I-35E in past years, and you’ll get the picture, hazy though it may be. Create a freeway that flows more freely, and you’ll eliminate a lot of pollution.

The widening project was approved in March when members of the Senate Bill 1420 Committee unanimously voted for the final draft of the highway project. That committee was established to oversee the use of public-private partnerships to fund the expansion of a 28-mile stretch of I-35E between Denton and Dallas.

The project is expected to add one general-purpose lane in each direction from Interstate 635 to U.S. Highway 380; rebuild high-occupancy lanes into two reversible toll lanes between I-635 and Loop 288; build new southbound frontage roads, general-purpose lanes and managed lanes across Lewisville Lake; and move northbound traffic to the existing lake bridge.

We can hardly wait. And, now, thanks to the latest word from the Federal Highway Administration, the project’s start shouldn’t be delayed too much longer.

Denton County transportation consultant John Polster said officials would seek proposals in November from construction firms, and could decide in November or December who will take the reins and begin work in the first or second quarter of 2013.

Polster said he’s been surprised by the speed of the proceedings.

“This is actually fast,” Polster said. “We’re having lots of one-on-one meetings with stakeholders and [the Texas Department of Transportation] to make sure we’re not missing anything, but it’s wicked fast.”

That’s OK with us.

When it comes to improving air quality and traffic flow, we feel the need for speed.