Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two Spanish firms, Cintra's NTE Mobility Partners and OHL Infrastructure, compete for Loop 820 tolling concessions

Northeast Loop 820 expansion gets environmental clearance


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2008

FORT WORTH — The proposed expansion of Northeast Loop 820 and the 820/Interstate 35W interchange has been environmentally cleared by the federal government, and area officials say they’re optimistic dirt will soon turn on the long-awaited project.

"With luck, we will be under construction in late 2009," state transportation Commissioner Bill Meadows of Fort Worth told political and business leaders at a 35W Coalition meeting Wednesday.

Last week, the Federal Highway Administration issued a finding of no significant impact for the proposed expansion of four-lane Loop 820 to six nontoll and four toll/carpool lanes from North East Mall to I-35W.

The finding clears the way for the Texas Department of Transportation to begin the work, once the necessary funding is in place.

The Loop 820 expansion is part of a broader plan known as North Tarrant Express, which is expected to cost more than $1 billion. It includes expansion of Loop 820, I-35W from Meacham to Alliance airports in Fort Worth, and Airport Freeway (Texas 121/183) in Bedford, Euless and Hurst.

However, Meadows said, transportation officials will focus on building the Loop 820 portion before starting the other sections of North Tarrant Express.

Loop 820 in Northeast Tarrant County has not been expanded since it was built in the mid-1960s. But during that time Tarrant County’s population has more than tripled to nearly 1.8 million people.

Portions of Loop 820 are essentially gridlocked from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. at certain points, including westbound traffic at Holiday Lane in North Richland Hills, and eastbound traffic at U.S. 377 in Haltom City. Congestion is also common at ramps leading to and from I-35W.

Two teams of private companies are competing for the right to develop North Tarrant Express and collect tolls on the toll/carpool lanes for years to come. Both teams are expected to bring private development money to the table to offset a lack of gas-tax-supported public funding.

But it’s unknown whether either proposal, which by law are being kept confidential until the Texas Transportation Commission selects a best value in January, will bring enough money to build the entire corridor. The Loop 820 portion of the project alone is expected to cost more than $600 million.

Details about how the lanes would be built — and how long construction would take — also won’t be disclosed until January at the earliest, officials said.
The two competitors vying to develop Loop 820 are both led by Spanish companies from Madrid: NTE Mobility Partners and OHL Infrastructure.

Additionally, the state transportation department has pledged $600 million in gas-tax-supported public funds for the entire North Tarrant Express project.

Mayor Mike Moncrief called on business leaders in the 35W Coalition to keep pushing for speedier construction on Loop 820 and I-35W, and to generally put more pressure on the Legislature to increase funding for overdue road and rail projects. Transportation is expected to be one of the most high-profile issues in the upcoming legislative session, which begins next month, he said.

"This is the time to make sure our transportation priorities take top billing," Moncrief told the 35W Coalition during a meeting at Coors of Fort Worth near I-35W and Meacham Boulevard. "If we don’t do it this session, it’ll be a cold day in May before the opportunity arises again. Without it, this incredible economic engine will be crushed like a beer can."

GORDON DICKSON, 817-685-3816

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