Hooray! After 20 years of planning, and numerous changes to the plans, the reconstruction of LBJ Freeway will get underway in 2009.
LBJ originally was built in 1969 to carry 180,000 cars a day. Today more than 270,000 vehicles a day use LBJ, and 10 years from now, it is projected to carry 450,000 cars and trucks daily.
In the late 1980s, state highway department (TxDOT) engineers and local officials began to look at how to relieve the congestion that was already plaguing LBJ. After three years of study, they came up with a “Locally Preferred Alternative”: 24 lanes of concrete including frontage roads, a veritable river of cement.
The homeowners and businesses along LBJ took one look at that plan and said, “No way. Go back to the drawing board and start over.” They also insisted on two conditions: The new road would be no higher and no wider than the existing road.
The next plan called for adding two tunnels under the existing roadway, with three lanes in each tunnel. These tunnels would run the length of the worst congestion, from approximately Preston Road to Webb Chapel, and would be like HOV lanes, except that people driving alone could pay a toll to use them.
However, this plan added tremendously to the cost of reconstruction, and during the same time, funding for highways began to decline. Back to the drawing board.
Now we have the final design for the western portion of LBJ between Central and Stemmons, because that is the funded portion. The eastern portion between Central and I-30 isn’t yet funded.
The new design calls for eight free main lanes and six new managed toll lanes. The toll lanes will be built at a lower level, but not in tunnels, with the free lanes cantilevered over them. There will be numerous on and off points for the managed lanes, and varying amounts will be charged depending on the type of vehicle, the number of people in the vehicle, and the time of day (rates will be higher during rush hours). This pricing strategy is supposed to enable traffic to keep moving at 50 mph in the toll lanes at all times.
The design also calls for frontage roads to be built where there aren’t any now.
The interchange at LBJ and Stemmons also will be rebuilt in the first phase of construction, and eventually will look like the High Five at Highways 635 and 75. Also in the LBJ design, room was left under the highway for a possible future DART rail line.
The reconstruction of LBJ has been the region’s No. 1 transportation priority for at least the last six years. And because it’s being built as a public-private partnership project, it will be finished in five years instead of 20.