24 years in the making, LBJ Express will soon break ground

The massive reconstruction of LBJ Freeway has been on the books since 1987. Now, with the groundbreaking just a few months away, questions about how the five-year project might affect specific areas of our neighborhood went mostly unanswered during a town-hall meeting Tuesday night at W.T. White High School.

It’s just too early to tell, according to Andy Rittler of LBJ Infrastructure Group, the developer overseeing the LBJ Express, and Lara Kohl of Trinity Infrastructure, a contractor for the project. But here’s what we do know:

-The project stretches first from Loop 12 to the I-35 split and then continues east on LBJ from Luna to Greenville.

-To avoid the environmental impact of widening the freeway or constructing overpasses, the thrust of the project involves building four to six new lanes beneath LBJ. They will be managed toll lanes with a guaranteed speed of at least 50 miles per hour. As more cars enter, and traffic slows down, the fee will increase.

-The additional lanes will have limited exits, reserved mostly for thru-traffic and long commuters such as a driver headed to DFW Airport from Garland.

-Construction will take place overnight, and at least four lanes will remain open at all times. Crews also are not allowed to close two consecutive exits. So, if your exit is blocked for construction, you’ll always be able to take the next one.

-The $2.7 billion project is funded by a comprehensive development agreement — a public-private partnership. TxDOT owns the project, contributing $490 million. LBJ Infrastructure has privately financed the rest through loans and is responsible for building and maintaining the roadway.

-When complete in 2016, LBJ will double in capacity.

Kohl says there will be no official detours that take motorists through residential neighborhoods. Several neighbors expressed concern about Harvest Hill, a road that already endures speeding cars despite the presence of schools, churches and homes. Also problem areas — Welch and Rosser, and the back-to-back exits at Midway and Marsh that always seem to clog up the streets.

But the developers have little control over what happens there. They only have a schematic plan from TxDOT that doesn’t include those types of details. They will simply tweak and fine tune along the way. But any improvements that require widening or constructing new roadways not included in the initial design — well, that’s a whole new process, starting from square one with TxDOT, Kohl says.

Potential problems on the neighborhood level should be monitored by the city. District 13 councilwoman Ann Margolin says the project employs two city traffic engineers who will keep tabs on the construction and quickly address any issues.

While it’s unclear how the project will directly affect the current traffic build-up in certain neighborhoods that lie south of the freeway, the goal is to cut overall congestion in half since drivers will have the option of taking the Express or staying on the existing roadways.

“We won’t lie to you, it’s going to be uncomfortable,” Kohl says. “The next five years will take a lot of patience.”

LBJ was built in 1969 and designed to carry 180,000 cars per day. By 2009, it held 270,000. In 2020, it’s projected to reach more than 500,000 per day. As the final commenter from the audience said, “The cost of not doing something will be greater.”

LBJ Infrastructure and Trinity Infrastructure plan to host a series of public meetings throughout the five-year process, offering several means of communication — the LBJ Express website, email updates, Facebook and Twitter. Significant construction won’t start until late spring or early summer. Until then, crews will be out removing trees in the state-owned right-of-way, relocating utilities and meeting with property owners to establish sound walls between the freeway and neighborhoods.


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