Thursday, March 5, 2009

Massive Grapevine highway project could begin this year

By NICHOLAS SAKELARIS and GORDON DICKSON - The Grapevine Courier / Star-Telegram - March 4, 2009
GRAPEVINE — The massive reconstruction of seven Grapevine highways — a $1 billion-plus project known as the DFW Connector — will change the appearance of the city.

And it will change the way motorists from other cities, and Grapevine residents themselves, get around.

Capacity on highways such as Texas 114/121 will double, with the addition of toll and nontoll lanes, making it possible for the first time in decades to drive through the once-sleepy farm town without encountering gridlock.

Gone will be the hair-pulling waits at traffic signals along William D. Tate Avenue, one of the main drags leading to the city’s "restaurant row."

"We don’t go into Grapevine in certain parts of the day because of the traffic. You can’t get around," said Michele Hoffman, who lives in the south part of the city. She supports the project, which may be managed by private developers.

The Texas Department of Transportation, which plans to supplement the long-delayed project with $250 million in federal stimulus money, is expected to select a best value among the bidders this month.

But the progress will come at a cost for area property owners. Part or all of about 16 Grapevine and Southlake businesses could be removed, including the 80-room Fairfield Inn on Texas 121, according to environmental documents provided by the Transportation Department.

The plans show that up to 10 of those businesses could be bulldozed.

Even more businesses will lose parking spaces, including Sam’s Club, Baylor Regional Medical Center, Academy Sports and Classic Chevrolet, officials said.

Classic Chevrolet will lose 173 parking spaces to make way for a flyover ramp, which will allow motorists on eastbound Texas 114 in Southlake to merge onto southbound Texas 121 and head into Euless or southbound on Texas 360 en route to Arlington without stopping.

New landmarks

Some people believe that the dominant structure in Grapevine is the historic B&D Mills, visible for many miles. Others say it’s the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center. Soon, these arguments will be moot.

The DFW Connector will be 16 miles long, with four decks of ramps and overpasses, and at its peak, near the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport north entrance, the structure will rival the five-deck Interstate 30/Interstate 35W interchange, also known as the Fort Worth Mixmaster, in stature.

The Texas 114/International Parkway interchange north of D/FW Airport will have four layers, similar to the 120-foot-tall High Five at Interstate 635 and U.S. 75 in north Dallas.

Construction could begin this year if the plan gets environmental clearance from the Federal Highway Administration, as expected. The Texas Department of Transportation is reviewing three proposals from developers for design and construction. The cost of the project is estimated at $907 million on federal environmental documents, although state officials predict the cost will top $1 billion.

Hundreds of area residents, city officials and elected officials attended a public hearing last week at the Grapevine Convention Center to learn more about the project. It was the last public meeting required in the environmental study phase.

Land lost

The DFW Connector will widen and improve interchanges for Texas 121, Texas 114, Texas 360, I-635 and surrounding arterial streets. The project will take five years to complete.

The Transportation Department estimates that it will need about 192 acres of right-of-way for the project; it could begin acquisition as soon as this summer.

Hagen Durant, general manager of Classic Chevrolet, said he has been anticipating this for several years. His company will probably have to relocate part of the business to another site to make way for the flyover ramp, which will pass right over the dealership.

Another direct connection from Texas 121 and Texas 360 west to Texas 114 will also have a large flyover ramp near Carrabba’s in Grapevine, at a loss of 11 parking spaces for the restaurant.

In Southlake, the big changes include realignment of the Southlake Boulevard and Gateway Drive bridges. A new flyover ramp will let motorists exit Texas 114 directly onto Southlake Boulevard.

To do that, however, Calico Corners, an interior design store at the corner of Southlake Boulevard and Texas 114, will be displaced.

At its widest point north of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Texas 121/114 will have up to 24 lanes, including main lanes, toll lanes and access roads. The westbound main lanes will be seven-wide at one point.

Drivers who intend to travel on Texas 114 straight to Irving will have the option of using managed toll lanes that will be similar to the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on some Dallas highways.

The sheer size of the project is a little scary for Grapevine Mayor William D. Tate.

"We assume we’ll be able to learn how to leave town and find our way back home once it’s built," Tate joked.

Public comments

The public can submit written comments on the proposed project until Friday. They can be mailed to:

Maribel P. Chavez, P.E.

Texas Department of Transportation

P.O. Box 6868

Fort Worth, TX 76115
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

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