North Tarrant Express Project Reduces Congestion Along Busy North Texas Highway in Record Time
Editor’s Note: The following article is one in a series of six profiles of winners of NCPPP’s 2017 National Public-Private Partnership Awards, which recognize organizations and individuals that have gone above and beyond to advance the concept and implementation of P3s across the country. The winners will be honored during P3Connect in Miami Beach in January.
Interstate 35W east to State Highway 121, a 13.5-mile highway that is part of one of the Dallas-Fort Worth region’s busiest roadways, accommodates more than 150,000 vehicles and nearly 500,000 individual trips per day. The heavy volume, which is forecast to increase substantially over the next 20 years, had long been a major headache for drivers and businesses.
“Economic development officials in the six cities this corridor serves said that, over the eight to 10 years leading up to this project, the traffic congestion was choking revenues. People couldn’t travel easily or quickly from home to their favorite restaurant in the next city,” said Robert Hinkle, who handles North Texas corporate affairs for the Madrid-based transportation infrastructure company Cintra.
To address this issue, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) entered into a P3 with a consortium headed by Cintra to build the North Tarrant Express. This $2.1 billion project doubled highway capacity and reduced congestion along a stretch of highway that connects I-35W to the west and crosses six municipalities in rapidly growing northeast Tarrant County. The consortium included Ferrovial Agroman/Webber, which served as the general contractor, Meridiam and the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
The consortium agreed to rebuild all of the general purpose, main lanes and frontage/service roads, construct two new managed tolled lanes, called TEXpress lanes, and bypass lanes in each direction.
Financing included $427 million in private equity from Cintra, $400 million in private activity bonds approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation, $573 million from TxDOT and a $650 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan.
Work on the project began in late 2010, was completed in October 2014, and now is in the operations and maintenance (O&M) phase. Cintra is responsible for all intelligent transportation systems (ITS) equipment that monitors traffic flow, performance and toll collection over the life of the 45-year O&M phase of the project, saving TxDOT more than $647 million in maintenance costs.
“The project would have taken up to 15 years to complete if TxDOT had used the state’s traditional procurement model, but we completed it in four-and-a-half years and nine months ahead of schedule,” said Hinkle. “I like to introduce myself to people by saying that I work for the ‘evil Spanish toll road builder,’ which is how someone referred to me once, but critics’ opinions changed once they saw the lanes open early and the congestion relief.”
The TEXpress lanes provide a minimum travel speed of 50 mph through congestion pricing, reducing congestion by up to 70 percent throughout this corridor and increasing speeds in the general purpose lanes by 10 to 15 mph.
“This unique project is only the second highway project in the nation to reconstruct a corridor and add managed lanes through a P3. It’s a significant piece of the mobility solution for the North Texas region,” said Loyl Bussell, acting district engineer for the TxDOT Fort Worth District.
“The reconstruction of this important corridor along Interstate 820 and State Highways 121 and 183 has been a regional need for decades,” Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said in a letter to TxDOT that was quoted in in the Transportation and Infrastructure Daily. “Since its opening last October, we have already seen vast improvements in mobility along the corridor and significantly increased economic activity.”
NCPPP is honoring the North Tarrant Express Project with its Outstanding Infrastructure Project Award for reconstructing a heavily used highway corridor in Tarrant County, thereby providing an efficient, time-saving and highly effective solution to the area’s heavy traffic congestion.