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.
NTTA spokesperson Michael Rey said SRT was built to accommodate a future expansion.
Construction work has begun in McKinney and crews are excavating and removing materials in the center median. This work is done in preparation of the new lane in each direction, according to NTTA officials.
Gary Graham, director of engineering for McKinney, said the city is not conducting additional construction projects along the tollway frontage roads.
SRT’s annual traffic counts are expected to increase by nearly 39 million transactions between 2015 and 2022, 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.”
Construction crews began working on the 26-mile project in January.
Tollway expansion work in McKinney will be done in the median between concrete barriers. Drivers can expect periodic single-lane closures between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., according to NTTA officials.
Intersection work in McKinney will take place at Custer Road, Craig Ranch/Exchange parkways, Alma Road/Alma Drive, Stacy Road, Lake Forest Drive/Watters Road, Hardin/Chelsea boulevards and US 75.
Construction at these intersections will not require full closures as work will take place on the shoulder of the SRT. These intersections have bridges that were originally constructed or previously modified to accommodate four lanes of traffic in each direction, Rey said in an email.
“We are evaluating our needs based on the demands at Lake Forest, Alma, Stacy [and]all those various intersections with the SRT,” Graham said. “Right now, we don’t have any projects that are to the point where we need to add additional infrastructure.”
In nearby cities of Frisco and Plano, full lane closures may occur. Any overnight or weekend lane closures will be determined on a weekly basis, Rey said.
In addition to work on SRT, the Texas Department of Transportation and city of McKinney have future plans to improve capacity along Hwy. 5. This project will add additional lanes to reduce congestion so drivers will not have to merge from a four-lane highway to a one- or two-lane roadway.
Proposed improvements on Hwy. 5 include widening the existing two-lane road to a four-lane divided highway from FM 1378 to Spur 399 and from Powerhouse Street to SH 121. TxDOT also proposed widening Hwy. 5 from the existing four-lane roadway to a six-lane divided highway from Spur 399 to Industrial Boulevard.
Bidding for work on Hwy. 5 is anticipated to begin in 2022, according to TxDOT spokesperson Ryan LaFontaine. This project will take approximately 18 months to complete, Graham said.
As businesses—from Toyota North America headquarters in Plano and soon-to-be Independent Bank in McKinney—open along SRT, more cars travel the tollway.
NTTA officials say widening 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 NTTA.
North Central Texas Council of Governments program manager Kevin Feldt 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.
The added capacity along 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. NCTCOG works with cities, counties and transportation agencies to better coordinate regional planning.
Meanwhile, NTTA saw its annual transactions increase from 141.8 million in 2015 to 167.7 million in 2018. It projects those transactions to rise by another 13 million over the next three years, according to NTTA data.
A transaction is recorded anytime 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.”