Friday, June 20, 2008

"The Billion-Dollar Bottleneck"

Worst bottlenecks in North Texas? Right here in Tarrant


By Bud Kennedy
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2008

We’re No. 1.

But not in a good way.

Northeast Loop 820 in Hurst is the worst bottleneck in all of North Texas, according to a new study that ranks the region’s roads among America’s most choked, behind only Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington.

There’s more bad news.

Not only is the 820-Airport Freeway interchange the No. 1 bottleneck — worse than anyplace in Dallas— but the Loop 820 exits at Denton Highway and Rufe Snow Drive are Nos. 2 and 3.

Overall, Northeast Tarrant County drivers face worse traffic than anyone in Dallas or Houston, according to a study of truck GPS data compiled by INRIX Inc. of Seattle.

Only Austin — where Interstate 35 amounts to a 5-mile-long elevated parking lot — has a freeway as crowded as Loop 820, and that city’s traffic overall is nowhere near as bad as Fort Worth’s.

What’s more, the region’s No. 4 worst bottleneck is Interstate 35W north of downtown Fort Worth. It’s congested an average of 7 hours a day.

Basically, Houston and Dallas already fixed their roads. We’re waiting for state money.

I would like to assure you that every county and city official is working on the problem.

But I couldn’t find many of them yesterday. For all I know, they were stalled in traffic at Holiday Lane.

When North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino called back, he was weaving down neighborhood streets to escape U.S. 377.

He described Loop 820 as "just ugly."

"The people who have to drive that every day don’t say nice things," he said. "It’s bad for our city. Businesses want to come, but they see the traffic and say, 'Why would I get into this?’ "

County Judge Glen Whitley is very familiar with the time-waste potential of Loop 820. He lives in Hurst.

"It’s a big drawback to the whole county," he said. "The traffic north of Fort Worth is so unreliable that nobody can predict how long it’ll take to get to work."

There’s a solution in the making. But lots of Texans won’t like it. Three Spanish-owned companies are in the running for a $1 billion contract to widen Loop 820 and operate two private toll lanes. The toll would be $4 each way.

The project is part of the North Tarrant Express, a new tollway network slow off the drawing board in Austin.

"We can’t get Austin to move forward," Whitley said. "It’s ridiculous that this is the last part of Loop 820 to be improved."

A public hearing July 1 at 7 p.m. at Richland Hills Church of Christ will give both residents and tollway-haters a chance to vent about both the slow plans and high tolls.

Terri Hall of San Antonio leads an anti-tollway group, Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom (TURF). She said she opposes any private tollway. "The bottom line is, this the most expensive way to expand that road," she said. "It means the highest possible cost to taxpayers and drivers, and hands over money to foreign companies. When the state has a record budget surplus, it’s hard to see how there’s not money for that road."

Call it the Billion-Dollar Bottleneck.

© 2008, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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