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Interstate project takes giant step

Area motorists are probably celebrating the latest news about Interstate 35E expansion — they may still be stuck in traffic, but progress is being made.

In what Denton County officials heralded as one of the biggest steps in the long process, they have settled on a way to fund both phases of the $1.4 billion project.

On Tuesday, the Commissioners Court passed a resolution approving the funding strategy for the long-awaited expansion, and the Texas Department of Transportation presented commissioners with a ceremonial check for $1.4 billion.

“This is a very historic day, not only for Denton County but for North Texas, that we’re able to see the 35 expansion become a reality,” said Commissioner Andy Eads.

As far as the timetable is concerned, Denton County transportation consultant John Polster said he feels the project — set to begin on or before Aug. 29 — will meet its 2016 completion goal.

Polster said officials have had many technical meetings with AGL Constructors — a consortium including Archer Western Contractors ALLC, Granit Construction Co. and Lane Construction Corp. that will do the construction work — and everyone understands what needs to be done to get the project done in a timely manner.

The plan is to add general-purpose lanes, managed toll lanes and frontage road improvements from Interstate 635 in Dallas County to U.S. Highway 380 in Denton County, a distance of about 28.2 miles.

The existing lanes 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 also includes the expansion of the Lewisville Lake Bridge.

Funding for the project will be a joint effort between TxDOT, the Regional Transportation Council and multiple regional partners.

Eads said officials have added a variety of additional components to the projects, including improvements to intersections along the roadway.

“These were options that were part of the original bid [from] the contractor and we wanted to be able to maximize the prices now, because construction will be cheaper now than in the future,” he said.

Additional options for the project include the I-635 interchange; Belt Line Road main lane improvements; the Dickerson Parkway interchange; the Corinth Parkway interchange; collector-distributor roads in the Highway 121/Bush Turnpike area; direct connector ramps between I-35E and Highway 121 on the north side; and the Post Oak Drive interchange.

We congratulate all officials who have worked long hours and endured countless frustrations to iron out details of this complicated and massive endeavor. It will be a historic project for Denton County, and as anyone who drives I-35E will tell you, the work is many years overdue.

But the starting point appears to finally be at hand, and although the next few years won’t be easy ones for commuters, the end product promises to be worth all the patience and frustration required to complete the journey.

We look forward to the day when we can drive the 28.2 miles targeted by this project without long delays and area merchants can welcome patrons who are no longer thwarted by thoughts of trying to navigate a jammed and outdated interstate highway to reach them.

Eads said the contractor will set up a website so residents can register to receive e-mail updates on construction and traffic alerts so they can travel around any closures or delays.

We encourage everyone to take advantage of the website and please, pack your patience before you leave home — for a little while longer, at least.