Sooner Than Later, "New LBJ" Freeway Construction Will Take Its Toll

The Texas Department of Transportation announced this morning that LBJ Development Partners will be responsible for the so-called New LBJ Freeway -- which, as we pointed out in September, will feature among its renovations six managed toll lanes sunk smack in the middle. TxDOT spokesman Tony Hartzel, the former Dallas Morning News transportation columnist, tells Unfair Park today that construction's expected to begin in mid-2010 or mid-'11 -- "They're not sure when" -- and wrap up in 2015. Which will make driving on LBJ between Interstate 35 and N. Central Expressway even more, um, demanding than usual -- though Hartzel insists the "priority here is to keep traffic moving," which will involve major lane shifts in order to keep open four lanes of traffic in each direction, especially during peek hours.

The project, of course, ain't cheap: $445 million of the construction costs is being covered by the Regional Transportation Council, meaning that's taxpayer dough. And the LBJ Development Partners -- consisting of Spanish-based Cintra, French-based Meridiam Infrastructure Finance, Houston-based W.W. Webber LLC and locally based Bridgefarmer & Associates, Inc. -- will cover the rest: $1.5 billion to $2 billion for construction, another $2 billion coming in operating and maintenance money once it's done. TxDOT also lists Dallas Police and Fire Pension System as a possible partner, with all the investors banking on the toll roads as a way to recoup their dough.

Hartzel says the design of the New LBJ isn't necessarily a done deal: "The developer can come in and propose something a little bit different. If they find something more efficient, they can seek approval of that as a design change." But for now, the brochure provides the sneak peek of the current design, most of which will likely remain in place.

He also says that once Cintra begins subcontracting the job, TxDOT expects to create 1,500 "local jobs" over the life of the project -- which, he says, is seven years "starting now." Cintra, of course, recently got the Tarrant County toll road gig from TxDOT as well. Says city council member and RTC chair Linda Koop in the TxDOT press release, "When we talk about millions and billions of dollars, the impact of that amount is fuzzy. Compare the project's estimated value of $4 billion in North Texas with the expected stimulus package transportation funding amount -- approximately $2.5 billion to the entire state. The contrast brings the full impact of what this means to our local economy into focus."

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