LBJ 635 Project in Dallas Hits Red Light Again

 

January 26, 2018

 

The Texas Transportation Commission hit the pause button at its January meeting trying to make sure that all the pieces of a new concept for funding the center section of the LBJ East freeway reconstruction effort are in place.

 

Here is Dallas Morning News Reporter Ray Leszcynski's story about the Commission deliberations and the strong showing by DFW leaders pushing for action.

 

AUSTIN — The muchanticipated $1.8 billion LBJ East freeway project was finally in a position to get the green light Thursday from the Texas Transportation Commission. But caution over how the massive project will be funded stalled it once again.


Despite the urging of the regional transportation director, state and local elected officials and residents who are daily users of the freeway dubbed the No. 1 transportation priority in North Texas, none of the five state commissioners supported putting the 10.8-mile stretch of Interstate 635 between Central Expressway and Interstate 30 up for bids.


Texas Department of Transportation officials had showed how the core of the project could be built first, and built with the $832 million currently available in the budget. But commissioners wanted a longer look at the full funding plan for the freeway that will go through Lake Highlands, Garland and Mesquite.


TTC members did not commit to a specific timeline to bring LBJ East back for consideration.
“We know it’s important.


We know it’s important to move on it,” TTC chairman J. Bruce Bugg said during Thursday’s meeting. “But $1 billion is the gap. It’s not dotting I’s and crossing T’s.”


It was more frustration for North Texans who contributed two hours of testimony Thursday and have watched the project become the line in the sand on Texas’ tollroad debate.


The freeway had been removed from the state’s 10-year plan by the TTC in December because it called for two tolled lanes in each direction.


Last month, at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, tolls had been removed as a potential funding tool for building the freeway. With an agenda item that underscored that point, gaining the commission’s approval to secure bids seemed a formality.


“I’m terribly disappointed,” said Dallas Council Member Lee Kleinman, who attended the Austin meeting. “Actions speak louder than words. They tell us they want to move the project forward and don’t move it forward.” Kleinman was not alone in his sentiment.


“Disappointed but not surprised,” said Garland Council Member B.J. Williams, who was also at the meeting. “It’s been a long journey. For the people of Garland, the question is ‘When?’”


Time to act
Since December, when the funding mechanism included two tolled lanes in each direction, TxDOT officials put a new plan in motion to do the work without tolls. The $832 million available for the project now could build five free lanes in each direction between Central Expressway and Centerville/Ferguson roads, plus add frontage roads.


The core could be contracted in early 2019, TxDOT said, and completed in 2022-23.
Then, as more money became available, TxDOT’s other proposed elements would be built in stages. First would be Centerville/Ferguson to I-30 at a cost of $430 million. Next would be rebuilding the I-30 interchange for $340 million.


The final phase would be the filling in of two express lanes in each direction for the full length of the project at a cost of $200 million.


“We’ve moved pretty quickly,” Bugg said, noting that the agenda called for the TCC to put the bidding process in action. “But we’ll defer from taking actions because a number of us have questions.”

 

But that didn’t sit well with some of the North Texas residents who traveled to Austin for the meeting. Susan Morgan of Lake Highlands told the commission said that she had been pushing for LBJ improvements for 17 years and the time to act, she said, is now.
“What you’re talking about doesn’t meet our needs,” Morgan said, referring to the core five lanes being built now and the express lanes that would be added later.


Someone loses
Some of the members of the Regional Transportation Council pressed for immediacy or at least a new date for consideration, but while acknowledging the importance of the project, the commissioners wouldn’t say if LBJ East would be brought back next month or six months down the road.


Michael Morris, regional transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments tried to assuage the commission’s doubt that the funds would fall into place — to the point of saying he’d put other North Texas projects aside to get LBJ East done, if necessary.
But that didn’t sway the committee.


“Somebody’s going to be a loser in all this,” commissioner Jeff Austin said. “It’s a real concern.”


Twitter: @RayLeszcynski