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We’ve Got A Highway Plan, But It’ll Cost You

By Jack Fink, CBS 11 News
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(credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

(credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – If you sit in traffic, it shouldn’t surprise you that North Texas is among the most clogged regions of the country.

Now, some local leaders say there’s a new opportunity to widen and unclog some area highways.  But they need to act fast, before a window of opportunity closes.

Amy Weidner says she always gets caught in traffic along I-35E in North Dallas and Denton counties.  “It’s very frustrating – especially if there’s a doctor’s appointment you need to go to and if you have little over in the car, it’s a challenge.”

The state has said it will soon run out of money to expand and build new highways — all while traffic keeps getting worse.

Now, some private companies have expressed an interest in paying for expanding a 28-mile stretch of I-35E between U.S. 380 in Denton and I-635 in Dallas — in exchange for the ability to charge a toll on some of the lanes.

Denton County Commissioners Court Judge Mary Horn says this is the only way to unclog the road… Without state taxpayers footing the bill.  “We’re talking about a $5 Billion project and no one area of Texas is going to get $5 Billion.. That’s just not logical.”

Under what’s called a Managed Lane Project, the tolled lanes would be in the center, and the free lanes, to the right of them.

Horn says this would speed up the highway’s expansion — and if approved, the project could be completed, “in 5-7 years – instead of 30 years.”

That’s how long horn believes it will take if the managed lanes aren’t approved.  But the deals can’t be signed until there’s a change in state law.

Right now, there’s a state deadline of august 31st in which these public-private partnerships have to be approved.  To get these deals done, that deadline has to be extended.

Some area state lawmakers have already filed bills to do just that.  And it’s not just I-35E.  Private firms have expressed interest in similar projects on Highway 183 between Highway 161 and I-35E and on the North Tarrant Express in three segments:  they include Highway 183 between Highway 121 and Highway 161, I-35W between I-30 and Highway 170, and I-820 between Highway 183 and Randol Mill Road.

Some drivers, including Melanie Johnson say they want lawmakers to approve these projects.  “That sounds pretty good. I like the toll roads.. I like the George Bush Turnpike. I like 121… it’s worth the money.”

Weidner though isn’t convinced.  “I don’t know any other interstate highways that are toll ways.”

Parts of I-635 have already been approved to be widened with managed toll lanes.

So is there legislative support to extend the deadline to allow these other highway plans to move forward?  Judge horn believes there is.

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