Jason Whitely reports
GRAPEVINE - It's the daily dread. Brake lights signal another rush hour at the congested interchange between Highways 114 and 121 north of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
"I?drive the project corridor every morning," said Selma Stockstill, spokeswoman for NorthGate Constructors. "This project is desperately needed in this area."
NorthGate won the Texas Department of Transportation contract to design and re-build the?corridor - doubling its capacity from 12 to 24 lanes.
It will be one of the biggest freeway footprints in North Texas, which TxDOT?has dubbed the DFW Connector because of its location on the northern and western sides of the airport.
Toll lanes?will sit in the middle of the project, and an?increased number of free lanes will be on the outside, along with a larger frontage road.?
The 8.4-mile stretch of Highway 114 from Irving to Southlake will cost $1.02 billion to build. TxDOT?said a?quarter of the funds - $250 million - are from the federal stimulus package that Congress passed earlier this year.
High occupancy toll lanes - also called "managed lanes" - began in Southern California, where congestion was a problem and highway officials were looking for options. Many federal and state officials like the lanes because they cost less and don't require new asphalt or a lengthy approval process. But they have critics who say only people wealthy enough to pay the extra money will benefit. Supporters say everyone wins, because drivers spend less time in stop-and-go traffic, and that saves fuel and vehicle maintenance costs.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the project is that it will be completed in four years, which is half the time a project of this scope usually takes.
TxDOT is doing something?it hasn't done before in North Texas. Instead of designing the freeway itself and then requesting bids from contractors to build it, TxDOT?farmed the entire project out.
"It will cut off at lot of time to this project," said TxDOT spokesman Tony Hartzel. "We're looking at cutting several years in time savings for this. We want to get the motorists out there to enjoy the finished project as soon as possible."
Hartzel said the project will need right-of-way from 100 commercial properties along the freeway's footprint, including some land at D/FW?Airport.?
Construction starts in a few months, but testing of core samples on the?ground got under way?Monday night, causing the first lane closures.
NorthGate said single lane closures will happen every day this week in the overnight hours as the project ramps up.
The middle toll lanes - also known as "managed lanes" - will be the first of their kind on a freeway in North Texas. The cost to use them will change based on congestion.
Although TxDOT will own the DFW Connector, it has hired the North Texas Tollway Authority to manage the toll lanes. TxDOT said it expects speeds in those lanes during peak periods not to drop below 50 miles per hour.
The project is projected to be complete by 2014.