ARLINGTON - A deal that would clear the way for construction of Texas 360 main lanes from south Arlington into Mansfield is close to being reached, officials said Thursday.
The Regional Transportation Council, the Metroplex's official planning body, will hold a special meeting Dec. 5 to consider approving the project, which includes using federal congestion mitigation and other surface transportation funds as a financial backstop to ensure debt to build the road is paid even if traffic doesn't produce enough toll revenue.
The unusual funding arrangement would speed up the decades-long effort to build the main lanes from East Sublett Road/West Camp Wisdom Road in Arlington to U.S. 287 in Mansfield. That area currently is served only by frontage roads, which are often crammed with stop-and-go traffic during peak periods at commuters try to get from the thriving residential areas to their jobs elsewhere in the North Texas region.
"The proposal looks like you've hit a home run, and you've done a lot of work," Arlington Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon, who also serves as RTC chairwoman, told the agency's staff.
The main lanes would be toll lanes, and would be operated by the North Texas Tollway Authority - and motorists likely would pay higher tolls than on the rest of the Dallas-Fort Worth tollway system, an official said.
"The idea is to maybe set them a little higher so the revenue comes in a little faster," said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
If as expected the RTC approves the deal, the tollway authority and Texas Transportation Commission would then be expected to sign off on it, too, before year's end.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley was among those who expressed concern about the tolls likely being higher than on other area toll roads, but acknowledged that the less-than-perfect arrangement was needed to solve a horrific congestion problem.
Whitley said that for future projects, including the eventual construction of Trinity Parkway in Dallas and Texas 170 in Fort Worth's Alliance area, "I think it's critical that NTTA and RTC work closer together."
The crux of the RTC deal is for the Texas Department of Transportation to loan the project $300 million. The Plano-based tollway authority would then repay that money over 35 years at a 4.25 percent interest rate, using proceeds from tolls paid by motorists on the road. If fewer than expected motorists use the road and the estimated $16 million to $26 million in annual payments can't be made, then the RTC would step in and provide its federal road funds to fill the gap.
RTC's money would then be repaid with interest, too.
Officials say they're still hopeful the road can be under construction next year and open to traffic by 2017. No loan payments would be required the first five years - until approximately 2022 - providing enough time for traffic to ramp up.
The project includes building two main lanes in each direction from East Sublett Road/West Camp Wisdom Road to Broad Street, and one lane in each direction from Broad Street to U.S. 287.