Dallas — After four years of construction, the LBJ Express, a $2.7 billion highway reconstruction project in the highly congested North Dallas region, opened to the public — three months ahead of schedule.
More than 300 dignitaries, community leaders, workers, and representatives from the developer and the contractor were on hand for the final ribbon-cutting and grand opening on the Webb Chapel Drive overpass.
“The reconstruction of this significant highway corridor has been in the planning stages for decades and was long overdue,” said Rafael del Pino, chairman of Ferrovial, the parent of Cintra. “We are proud to be here among our many visionary state, local and regional transportation partners – and representatives of the thousands of workers, businesses and local residents – that made this project possible and allowed us to deliver on our collective vision ahead of schedule. Together, we are providing long-awaited traffic congestion relief that will ensure that this region remains the engine of a vibrant state economy and will continue to be recognized across the United States, and indeed the world, for years to come.”
The LBJ Express project is the state of Texas’ largest public-private partnership (P3) project, and was the first Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) project signed in Dallas County. Both the LBJ Express and the North Tarrant Express, which opened in October 2014, serve as a financial model for other P3 projects.
LBJ Infrastructure Group LLC, the developer of LBJ Express, is a consortium of Cintra, Meridiam Infrastructure, APG and the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System. The project utilized four primary methods of financing, including the issuance of private activity bonds (PABs), $615 million; a credit line controlled by the U.S. Department of Transportation called TIFIA, $850 million; the investors’ funds, $664 million; and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), $490 million.
Beyond the financing model, projects like the LBJ Express and North Tarrant Express exemplify extensive collaborative efforts among public and private partners that can be replicated elsewhere in the state and the country. “Public-private partnerships represent the future of infrastructure development,” said Jane Garvey, chairman of Meridiam North America. “The lack of a sustained and predictable funding mechanism at the state and national levels will continue to thwart future infrastructure projects. Public-private partnerships are viable, real-world solutions that exist today to help us achieve our vision for the future.”
In addition to greatly enhancing the corridor and improving mobility for drivers, the reconstruction project is attracting new businesses to the corridor. “We have seen substantial development already,” said Antonio Alvarez-Cedrón, CEO of LBJ Infrastructure Group. “Now, with the opening of this state-of-the-art highway and its almost double capacity, business is returning to the corridor as owners, developers and investors see the enhanced level of access and future potential for this vastly expanded highway corridor. Residents and commuters will find reliable travel times in their daily trips, improving the quality of their lives.”
A unique design-build process, in which the project is being designed and built concurrently, shaved several years from the project schedule. Trinity Infrastructure, a joint venture between Ferrovial Agroman US Corp and Webber, managed the design and construction, which resulted in over 15 million hours worked and provided more than 9,000 jobs to over 250 local and regional construction companies, including 100 Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs).
The more than 13-mile project, which began in 2011, encompasses the complete reconstruction of all main lanes and expanded frontage lanes along I-635 from Luna Road to east of U.S. 75, as well as the addition of new managed toll lanes within the corridor and direct connectors to new managed lanes along I-35E from Loop 12 to I-635. Additionally, the majority of the managed lanes have been constructed sub-grade in a cantilevered depressed corridor traveling under the main lanes. The project also includes bypass lanes at most of the major intersections along the corridor; new ornate bridge structures and retaining walls and unique lighting are also major components of the rebuilt corridor.
With the completion of construction, the LBJ Express substantially increases road capacity: it features a combination of four main lanes in each direction, two to three lanes of continuous frontage roads in each direction, and three managed toll lanes (known as TEXpress Lanes) in each direction that will use fluctuating, congestion managed tolling to keep traffic moving at a goal of 50 mph. Drivers will have the option to travel along the newly rebuilt general highway lanes and frontage roads at no charge, or enter the TEXpress Lanes.
Based on real-time traffic conditions and demand, the TEXpress toll prices will fluctuate periodically throughout the day to maintain a minimum speed of 50 mph. Sensors along the roadway will continuously transmit information about the volume of cars and level of congestion, and tolls will be recalibrated as often as every five minutes. As traffic levels and demand increase, the toll price changes to keep vehicles moving. Once traffic volumes drop, the price goes down.
Extensive signage, including dedicated entrance and exit ramps, will guide drivers safely on and off each segment. Toll rates will be clearly marked at each entrance ramp so drivers can decide if they want to pay to take the TEXpress Lanes, or use the general highway lanes. The rate a driver sees on the sign will not change for that segment.
The TEXpress Lanes along the LBJ Express are part of a much larger network in North Texas that includes SH 114 and the North Tarrant Express, which opened in October of last year. TEXpress Lanes will also be utilized along I-35W, which is currently under construction between downtown Fort Worth and US 287, I-30 in Tarrant County, SH 183 in Dallas and Tarrant Counties and I-35E in Dallas County.
“The ultimate goal is to create a seamless transportation system that allows long-haul travelers along with regional and local commuters the ability to quickly, safely and reliably travel from one side of the DFW Metroplex to the other or anywhere in between,” said Hinkle. “By providing this new route for through-travelers, we are shifting vehicles off of the main lanes, facilitating greater mobility throughout the length of these corridors.”