On a miserable, rainy morning Nov. 8, the Texas Department of Transportation cut the ribbon on Phase 1 of the 35 Express project, the $1.4 billion 30 mile construction project to widen I-35 between Dallas and Denton.
The end result was an extra lane throughout, with the highway south of the Corinth Parkway exit expanded from three lanes to four and north expanded from two lanes to three. An additional two tolled lanes, or “express lanes,” run from just north of the Lewisville Lake bridge all the way to Dallas, either northbound or southbound depending on the time of day. A second phase of the project to add another lane, estimated to cost $3.4 billion, has been in the works since the project was first announced in 2013, but TxDOT has yet to receive funding for it.
The project was intended to address congestion in cities that have been among the fastest growing in the entire country for several years. As recently as last May, Frisco and McKinney were singled out as the second and third fastest growing cities in the U.S. since the 2010 census behind Conroe, also in Texas. TxDOT commission chairman J. Bruce Bugg, Jr., said Texas’ population is predicted to continue to spike over the coming decades,and big cities like the DFW Metroplex, which have most of the jobs, will absorb the majority of that growth.
“We are in the path of all that phenomenal growth that’s going to occur in this state. That’s why this project is so important,” he said. “It’s a great day in Denton County.”
Construction for the 35Express project has caused broad variance in road conditions, frequent nightly closures along the corridor and multiple bridges crossing over the highway to be torn down and rebuilt to accommodate the wider roadway. According to Texas Department of Transportation public information officer Donna Huerta, that’s all over.
“Right now, you barely see any barrels out there any more and you don’t see the road all torn up and big construction trucks everywhere, it’s just so nice,” she said. “You could almost just leave Dallas and put it on cruise control and just relax, and it’s been a long time coming.”
Huerta said most of the work was done at night to minimize disruption, and that the time investment was minimized by doing a design-build, or beginning the build process before the design is complete, and by dividing the project into three segments and working on all of those segments at once instead of one at a time. Huerta said the project could have taken as long as eight to 10 years, but has been completed in four while keeping full highway closures to a minimum.
Huerta said the ribbon cutting was for the project’s meeting substantial completion. Though finishing touches still need to be placed before final completion, Huerta said that could be done by the end of the year, and though more construction is planned, it could remain unfunded for as long as five to 10 years.
This could be the end of construction on I-35 in Lewisville for more than a decade.
Lewisville city council member TJ Gilmore was one of dozens of local elected officials who attended the Highland Village ceremony to celebrate. He said the road was safer and less congested than it was before the project started.
“In a construction project of this size and scope, there are always compromises,” he said. “I think as an economic driver for Denton County, it’s going to be incredible.”
Lewisville residents have questioned the highway’s lane width. Huerta said that all lanes are between 11 and 12 feet wide, with the state minimum being 10. She suggested that drivers who are having trouble with the lanes slow down.
“It’s 60 miles per hour through there, and some people are trying to go 70 and 80 miles per hour and it’s just not going to work,” she said. “With the new pavement it’s tempting to go faster, but there will be law enforcement out there in full force.”