Sam Rayburn Tollway project expected to ease congestion

Sam Rayburn Tollway is being widened from Denton Tap Road in Lewisville to east of US 75 in McKinney.

Sam Rayburn Tollway is being widened from Denton Tap Road in Lewisville to east of US 75 in McKinney.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story said transactions are expected by 13 million a year for the next three years. It should have said transaction are projected to rise by 13 million over the next three years, not per year.

The Sam Rayburn Tollway widening project aims to improve regional mobility as the North Texas population is projected to exceed 11 million people in the coming decades.

The $200 million project will add a fourth lane in both directions of the 26-mile tollway from Denton Tap Road in Lewisville to east of US 75 in McKinney.

Michael Rey, a spokesperson for the North Texas Tollway Authority, said the tollway was built to accommodate a future expansion.

Construction work has begun on the Frisco and Plano side of the SRT, and lane closures can be expected throughout construction. The toll road will be widened either from the median or the outer lane, depending on the location.

The SRT’s annual traffic counts are expected to increase by nearly 39 million transactions between 2015-22, according to NTTA projections.

“It’s our job to provide mobility to North Texas,” Rey said. “So as the congestion builds … we have to make the decision to reinvest into the roadway to try to decrease that congestion—that’s all part of the region’s plan.”

The project’s anticipated completion in late 2021 will mark the end of construction along the tollway for the foreseeable future, Rey said.

“[The SRT widening] will help people get from say McKinney … back and forth to the airport in a timely fashion,” he said. “If people choose to make the investment [and] use the toll road, then we want to make sure that [traffic] moves as quickly as it possibly can.”

LOCAL IMPACT


Construction crews began working on the 26-mile project in January.

Several intersections through Frisco are planned to be under construction through this spring and summer.

Work on the Coit Road, Hillcrest Road and Legacy Drive intersections is occurring this spring. The Preston Road and Parkwood Boulevard intersections are expected to start work this summer.

On the Plano side, a new ramp will be built to replace the eastbound Preston and Parkwood exit ramps. Improvements are also being made to the interchange on the Dallas North Tollway to help with traffic flow.

Any overnight or weekend lane closures in Frisco and Plano during construction will be determined on a weekly basis, Rey said.

Widening construction will not take place at the Custer Road, Independence and Dallas parkways intersections because those intersections were previously modified to accommodate four lanes, Rey said.

The city of Frisco is not doing any work on the SH 121 frontage road in conjunction with the SRT widening project, said Paul Knippel, the Frisco director of public works and engineering services.

PROJECT OVERVIEW


As businesses—from the Toyota North America headquarters in Plano and soon-to-be Independent Bank in McKinney—open along the SRT, more cars travel the tollway.

NTTA officials said widening the SRT will help accommodate for this growth.

In January, NTTA staff met with business groups along the tollway to keep them up to date on the status of the construction project.

“We’ve had this enormous concentration of development along our roadways, so I mean [the widening project] is an answer to some of these gigantic companies that are moving to the area,” Rey said.

As widening along the tollway is expected to continue until late 2021, Rey said drivers can expect to see construction take place from Lewisville to McKinney. Construction work will not be done in phases.

“[This project is] reinvestment by NTTA in the region,” Rey said. “And we’re doing about $1.5 billion improving our projects in North Texas. Generally, that means widening or building additional lanes.”

The $200 million project will be funded through toll fees collected by the NTTA. Kevin Feldt, program manager for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said NTTA’s projects are “‘you bring your own money, you get your own project’ kind of deal.”

“We view the NTTA project as cost- and revenue-neutral in that they have the money to construct, operate and maintain their projects,” he said.

REGIONAL MOBILITY


The added capacity along the SRT will help with the area’s growth.

The NCTCOG projects the region’s population will increase from 7.4 million today to about 11.2 million in 2045. The NCTCOG works with cities, counties and transportation agencies to better coordinate regional planning.

Meanwhile, the NTTA saw its annual transactions increase from 141.8 million in 2015 to 167.7 million in 2018.

Transactions are projected to rise by another 13 million over the next three years, according to NTTA data.

A transaction is recorded any time a vehicle passes through a toll, which means one vehicle could have multiple transactions during a single trip.

Rey said although transactions are anticipated to increase along the tollway, there are no future plans to add a fifth lane.

“To do that we would have to acquire right of way, and I don’t believe that’s in the plans,” he said. “That’s why we go to the middle of the roadway, which will essentially take up the remaining right of way.”

Plus, he said, adding more than four lanes on a highway can have a degrading effect on traffic.

“You don’t want to go to five lanes in each direction or six [lanes] because you don’t get your return on investment from that,” Feldt said.

More lanes result in vehicles changing lanes more frequently, which causes heavier congestion, he said.

Transportation planners should explore more solutions to improving regional mobility other than expanding highways, Feldt said.

“It’s not just about the big roads that we have,” Feldt said. “We also need to think about our arterial network of roadways as well. And we need to think about public transportation projects.”


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