Updated at 2:15 p.m.
Getting Texas 360 extended from Arlington to Mansfield beginning in 2015 became a lot more realistic Friday, after the North Texas Tollway Authority approved a deal to develop the toll project in a partnership with another agency.
Texas 360 will be extended as a toll road from Sublett Road/Camp Wisdom Road to U.S. 287, with the Texas Department of Transportation doing the initial design and construction and then turning over the road to the tollway authority, to be operated and maintained as part of the region's now-vast tollway system.
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The state transportation department can pay for the initial work with project-backed debt, a federal transportation infrastructure loan (TIFIA loan) or cash from the state's highway fund, according to the agreement.
The agreement calls for four main lanes as far south as Broad Street, and two main lanes from Broad Street to U.S. 287. Frontage road improvements are also in the mix. The project is expected to cost about $600 million.
Any toll revenues left over after the debt, operations and maintenance expenses are paid will be split evenly between the two agencies. The state transportation department will focus its share of the funds on improving the Texas 360 corridor north of the project. For example, some of the funds could eventually be used to improve the Texas 360/Interstate 30 interchange, although a timetable for such work isn't spelled out.
Depending upon how the environmental study of this route goes, a realistic goal is to get the project under construction by 2015. Under that scenario, the road could be open to traffic by 2017, said Texas Transportation Commission member William "Bill" Meadows of Fort Worth. Meadows worked closely with tollway authority officials to reach an agreement.
The Texas Transportation Commission will consider approving the deal during a meeting in late February. Pending that approval, both sides would then need to put the final touches on a development agreement by March.
The tollway authority has dramatically expanded its role in providing mobility options for North Texas motorists during the past decade, beginning with the Sam Rayburn Tollway in Denton and Collin counties. The tollway authority also extended the President George Bush Turnpike into Grand Prairie and Irving, and inked a deal to build the Chisholm Trail Parkway from downtown Fort Worth to Cleburne.
But arranging all that work has come at a whopper of a cost. The tollway authority is now servicing $9.5 billion worth of debt and, although it probably could have issued more, didn't want to go deeper in the red to build the Texas 360 extension. So, the next best thing was to tap into the borrowing power of the Texas Department of Transportation, and that's the essence of the agreement reached Friday.
"It preserves our funding to use on future roads as they come up," said tollway authority board member Victor Vandergriff of Arlington, who will be leaving the board at the end of the month.
The tollway authority gets to add Texas 360 to its growing portfolio of toll roads. The Texas Department of Transportation gets the benefit of traffic relief at essentially no cost - the agency does pay for Texas 360 expansion up front, but will get its money back.
"We get it back over time," Meadows said.
And Texas motorists will get the immediate benefit of a road expansion that, were they left to use only traditional forms of funding, they might not be able to afford for another 20 years.
“Traffic congestion on SH 360 is a serious quality of life, economic, and safety issue for families and businesses in southeast Tarrant County," state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said in an email. In 2009 and 2010, Turner organized community leaders in Arlington, Grand Prairie and Mansfield to work together and see the Texas 360 project through to completion.
"Today's decision by the NTTA," he said, "is a significant step forward in solving this problem."