As crews finish off sections of the nearly completed Interstate 35E expansion with new blacktop and lane striping, drivers have begun to notice something: The lanes are skinny. And the passing lane is inches from a concrete barrier.
Before the construction project began, drivers on I-35E through Lewisville had three free main lanes in each direction, each at least 12-feet wide. With the expansion, four free lanes in each direction are each 11-feet wide.
The design speed of the highway from the Bush Turnpike through the Lewisville Lake Bridge is 70 mph.
Lewisville resident Deanna Perkins said she fears driving alongside large vehicles with trailers. “The lanes are so narrow, these drivers have no idea what is going on in back of their vehicles,” Perkins said. “Trailers go over the lines and into the next lane, and they have no control, even though the truck pulling is driving straight.”
“I can’t imagine the death toll we will be enjoying soon,” wrote Kim Stevens in a post to the City of Lewisville Facebook group. Stevens also questioned how police officers would be able to pull someone over on the road without getting hit. She said she would be writing her representatives about the road.
Another resident Jennifer Lane wrote that Friday morning she was nearly sandwiched between two semis, neither of which were 100 percent in their lanes. “I finally punched out, but that is not always possible depending on the time of the day,” Lane said. “The lanes are way too narrow.”
The 35Express project took away the free HOV lanes in each direction that ran from the south end of town through Dallas and replaced them with tolled TEXpress lanes. Those premium lanes are 12 feet wide.
Federal and state road design standards call for 12-foot minimum lane widths for an urban freeway. The Federal Highway Administration standards say that on high-speed roadways with narrow lanes and narrow shoulders, the risk of severe lane departure crashes increases by 5 percent. But the effect is not as pronounced with 11-foot lanes as it is with 10-foot lanes, which charts show can increase the risk of crashes by up to 30 percent.
The original plans for the expansion project called for 12-foot lanes. A 2011 slideshow delivered by TxDOT at a public meeting showed not only the wider travel lanes, but 10-foot shoulders on both the left and right of the main lanes.
By 2012, the lanes on the project documents were showing 11-foot widths. The left shoulder was reduced from 10 to two feet. Texas highway design standards for highways of six lanes or more call for minimum 10-foot left shoulders and 10-foot right shoulders. Photos from the highway show left shoulders less than half a foot.
C.J. Schexnayder, a spokesman for AGL Constructors, the contractor building the project, said that the main lanes have varying widths, but that the minimum width is 11 feet, which meets TxDOT standards.
“TxDOT approved the lane widths and the shoulder widths on I-35E in coordination with its federal partners,” wrote Schexnayder. “Widths that vary from the agency guidelines are acceptable based on engineering judgment.”
Tony Hartzel, a TxDOT public information supervisor, said that the department’s Roadway Design Manual sets guidelines for roadways statewide.
“It’s important to note that those are guidelines, and they can be modified based upon engineering judgment,” Hartzel said. “Eleven-foot widths can also be found on portions of US 75 and I-635, for example.”
Hartzel said that in the case of I-35E, the roadway was expanded but not completely rebuilt, and the 11-foot widths were approved by TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration.
According to TxDOT, the 11-foot widths are not the ultimate configuration.
“The schematic for the ultimate project still shows 12-foot general purpose lanes,” said Hartzel, referring to the as yet unfunded second phase of the expansion project. “The interim schematic has shown 11-foot lanes since it was developed,” he said.
Hartzel explained that the narrower lanes were used so that multiple older bridges along the corridor could stay in place until the second phase could be built. Bridges at Main Street, Corporate Drive and the KCS Railroad crossing between FM 407 and Valley Ridge would need to be rebuilt or reworked in order to accommodate a wider right of way for the freeway.
Most of the current roadway through Lewisville fits the additional lanes within the pre-existing right of way.
That doesn’t sit well with residents like Stephen Sprayberry.
“The AGL plan has basically taken the same overall width of the surface and squeezed another lane into it, reducing the width of each lane,” Sprayberry said. “It’s voodoo math and a recipe for disaster.”
Although TxDOT purchased all the right of way needed for Phase 1, Hartzel said the project still needs $600 million for land purchases before TxDOT would have the width necessary to build the ultimate project.
Phase 1 of the 35Express project to expand I-35E between I-635 in Dallas and U.S. 380 in Denton is expected to be substantially completed this fall at a cost of $1.45 billion. In addition to adding lanes, the project reworked many intersections and replaced or added new bridges — most notably a new bridge across Lewisville Lake.
Phase 2 would add two more managed lanes and more free main lanes in some locations and widen the main lanes to 12 feet. Funding for Phase 2 is not yet identified.
For more information about the 35Express project, readers can visit the project website at www.35express.org.