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Urban Land Institute: Dallas's "Bold [Roads] Retooling Could Run Short of Fuel for a While."

Click to embiggen a look at LBJ Freeway in the year 2016. Give or take.
Click to embiggen a look at LBJ Freeway in the year 2016. Give or take.

That LBJ Freeway overhaul we've been warning you about gets underway today as crews begin the first phase of the HOV-lane shut-down, between Luna Road and Midway Road. But, hey, look at it this way, says Andy Rittler, spokesman for the LBJ Express: "We anticipate there is going to be some headaches, but at the end of five years, drivers are going to have a brand-new highway and one that is safer and state-of-the-art." So there's that.

Turns out, the LBJ project gets a shout-out in a new Urban Land Institute-Ernst & Youngreport that just became public: Infrastructure 2011: A Strategic Priority, which looks at the wish lists of cities 'round the globe and estimates how close they are to becoming reality. Dallas-Fort Worth, but mostly Dallas, even gets its brief chapter in the 90-page report. Long story short, without the surprise ending: We need a lot, from untangled highways 'round downtown to new levees 'round the river, but we ain't got much to work with. Jump for the local look-see.

Dallas-Fort Worth: Big Project, Some Private Dollars

Interlaced by highways with spaghetti-junction interchanges, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex serves as the Texas transportation hub, boasting one of the world's busiest airports. But in a big energy state ruled by the car, Dallas is trying to refashion itself, becoming a Sunbelt leader in retrofitting light rail onto its expansive suburban agglomeration and using managed toll lanes to temper roadway congestion. Projects underway could nearly double the local rail system's reach to 90 miles of tracks over the next three years, including a planned extension to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

At the end of 2010, the local transit authority opened the final leg of the 28-mile, 20-station Green Line, connecting southeast and northwest Dallas, funded by a 1 percent sales tax collected in 13 jurisdictions throughout the Metroplex. Texas also is making strides as a national leader in PPPs, financing and building managed toll lanes in the Dallas area. In 2010, two managed lane deals for the Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway and the North Tarrant Expressway closed with projected development costs totaling $7 billion.

Starting with projects long on their wish lists, local officials want to untangle the kinked freeway web and aptly named Mixmaster interchange, which bottlenecks access to the center of Dallas. They also want to rebuild faltering levees along 20 miles of the Trinity River south of the city, transforming area road systems and creating a world-class urban recreational park with hiking trails, bike paths, and a restored hardwood forest.

Some of these Texas-sized, multibillion-dollar plans will run into familiar new-age funding obstacles -- federal budget cuts, a sizable state budget deficit, and depleted sales tax revenues. In a state with no income tax and a prohibition against using gasoline taxes for transit, lawmakers look to apply gas tax revenues to schools and other expenses when the state highway fund cannot keep up with road funding needs. Light-rail projects in development count on federal matches, while road and levee projects will go nowhere fast without hefty federal assistance. The area's bold retooling could run short of fuel for a while.


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