Planners propose changes to LBJ Express project

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by DEBBIE DENMON

WFAA

Posted on August 16, 2011 at 8:58 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 16 at 11:10 PM

DALLAS — LBJ Freeway is one of the most congested highways in America, and with a chunk of HOV lanes closed due to the mammoth construction project now under way, the congestion just got worse.

The original plan called for rebuilding 17 miles of Interstate 635 between Luna Road and Greenville Avenue, with a total of eight lanes above ground and six toll lanes underground.

The LBJ project is also affecting a section of I-35E from Valwood Parkway to Loop 12.

But we learned on Tuesday that the developer has new plans for what will happen at the intersection of LBJ and the Dallas North Tollway. Instead of new toll lanes going underneath the DNT, a new plan would change that.

"The biggest change you'll see is that the managed lanes that generally went underneath in the original design, we're taking those over the top of the tollway now," explained LBJ Infrastructure Group spokesman Andy Rittler. "But they'll still be at the same level as the current lanes are now."

The six managed lanes will be below the existing ground level on LBJ from Josey Lane to Welch Road, but will come back up to the surface level for a quarter of a mile at the intersection of LBJ and DNT.

Then — from Montfort to Hillcrest it goes back to being a six-lane open tunnel.

"We are taking the lanes above ground for a short distance because drainage issues were a concern," Rittler explained.

LBJ Infrastructure is required to hold a meeting when proposed changes occur to the design of the project and did so Tuesday evening at the Sheraton Hotel on LBJ. Nearby residents showed up to discuss their concerns.

"We're just looking for something that will control acoustic sound on the highway," said Charles Hickman. "We hear everything if it's on LBJ."

There was talk of a proposed sound wall being raised from 9 feet to 11 feet, since the new design plan would have six toll lanes now above ground.

"We did find there's a little bit of impact — enough to raise the wall; that's what our noise analysis study showed," Rittler said. "We are trying to be proactive in this area."

The proposed change would not change the completion date of the project, which started in January and is expected to be done by December 2015. The $2.1 billion price tag is not expected to increase, either, but the changes must still be approved by the Federal Highway Administration and Texas Department of Transportation before any of this can take place.

"By taking the open tunnel lanes above ground at the DNT and LBJ, we really think traffic congestion will be decreased overall," said TxDOT spokesman Tony Hartzel.

The two agencies will likely vote on whether or not to approve the proposed changes early next year.

E-mail ddenmon@wfaa.com

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