The $200 million expansion of the Sam Rayburn Tollway and its intersections is on track to be completed in December, according to North Texas Tollway Authority officials.

“We are coming down the homestretch,” NTTA spokesperson Michael Rey said. “We are on schedule [and] on budget. Everything is going as planned.”

As the project nears completion, McKinney officials are preparing for major work ahead for the adjoining SH 5, a key artery through east McKinney and the historic downtown district.

The tollway’s widening project began in January 2019. It adds a fourth lane in both directions from Denton Tap Road in Coppell to US 75 in McKinney.

While construction has wrapped up on the SRT in McKinney and in other sections, NTTA officials said the additional lanes will remain closed until the entire project is complete to avoid potential safety hazards.

The project aims to improve mobility, as the estimated North Texas population of 7.5 million is projected to exceed 11 million in the coming decades.

“It was obvious to anybody who has traveled the [tollway] in the past few years ... traffic was certainly ramping up,” Rey said. “We were starting to see congestion, so that triggered the planning and ... the construction of that extra lane.”

Part of the expansion involved adding lanes to bridges at several intersections. This process includes demolition work and adding foundation, columns, beams and a bridge deck, Rey said.

The project is paid for through the NTTA’s Capital Improvement Fund, which consists of toll revenue after operations, debt services and reserve maintenance costs have been paid.
The number of vehicles on regional toll roads is expected to increase as the North Texas population grows.

Collin County Commissioner Duncan Webb said that infrastructure expansion is essential as the region experiences unprecedented growth.

“We are estimating between 40 and 80 people moving to Collin County every day. ... That also means that we probably have 20 new cars on our roads every single day,” he said.

These growth projections are reflected in NTTA’s budget, which estimates revenue to increase to $5.5 billion between fiscal years 2021 and 2024. In fiscal year 2020-21, toll revenue is estimated at $971 million.

As part of a biennial toll rate schedule approved by its board of directors, NTTA announced earlier this year a $0.01 toll rate increase from $0.19 to $0.20 per mile that began July 1.

The Sam Rayburn Tollway widening project is not expected to contribute to increased toll rates, NTTA officials said.

Rey said one benefit of the project is construction occurred in the middle of the highway, which lessened the effect on drivers.

“We never want to say we don’t have an impact; we understand construction always does,” he said. “But it certainly has had minimal impact.”

Road paving and maintenance work throughout the tollway and its frontage road are still underway. NTTA is also working on striping and improving landscaping along the corridor.

McKinney’s next big project

The Texas Department of Transportation is designing construction plans for another major thoroughfare in McKinney: SH 5.

This project will reconstruct the highway from south of CR 275 in Melissa to Spur 399 in McKinney.

Design is taking place in two sections. The first is from Spur 399 to just north of US 380. Design is expected to be completed in 2022.

The second section is from north of US 380 to south of CR 275. The construction portion of this section scheduled to take place after phase one, Project Manager Nazrul Chowdhury said. However, TxDOT plans to advance right-of-way acquisition—which allows for relocation of utilities, like water and gas lines—so that the project is shovel ready.

The total cost of the improvements is $138 million.

Nick Ataie, McKinney capital improvements manager, said he does not expect the SRT expansion to have an immediate effect on the city, but once the SH 5 project is completed, demand will likely increase.

“Folks use [the SRT] to get to other highways in the area,” Ataie said. “It’s good to see that NTTA is being proactive and planning for what we all know is going to happen. Collin County is going to continue to grow, and that’s going to add more vehicles to the roadways.”

With increased capacity on the Sam Rayburn Tollway, the Texas Department of Transportation is in the first phase of improving SH 5 from Spur 399 to US 380.

TxDOT will start accepting bids on the first phase of the SH 5 project in the summer of 2024. Once a bid is accepted, construction is expected to take three to four years to complete.

This portion includes grade-separated intersections at Spur 399 and Stewart Road. Grade separation involves aligning a junction of two or more roadways at different heights so that they will not disrupt traffic flow.

From north of Stewart Road to Eldorado Parkway and Industrial Boulevard, the four-lane portion of SH 5 will be expanded to six lanes.

A raised center median and left turn lanes from north of Eldorado Parkway and Industrial Boulevard to US 380 will also be added.

The section of SH 5 between South Tennessee Street and US 380 will receive a 12-foot-wide shared-use path for pedestrians and cyclists on the west side of the highway. The east side will include a 6- to 8-foot wide sidewalk.

Funding primarily comes from sources such as gas tax revenues, vehicle registration fees and federal reimbursements, said Patrick Clarke, a spokesman for TxDOT’s Dallas District.

The city of McKinney is also planning to contribute funding to enhance stormwater drainage, provide LED lighting and incorporate an “aesthetic wall element” along the corridor, Ataie said.

The second, unfunded phase will reconstruct SH 5 from a two-lane, undivided roadway to a four-lane, divided roadway from north of US 380 to south of CR 275. It will be built with the ability to be widened to six lanes in the future.

Because this segment will have two more lanes than the portion just south of it, bottlenecks will likely occur between Eldorado Parkway and US 380. However, Ataie said officials do not view that section of the highway as a major street.

“We want to bring those travel speeds down,” he said. “There’s a lot of intersecting streets and driveways. You’ve got the city’s historic cultural district. So, we really want to prime that area to be [in] a much different context than what [SH] 5 is going to look like north of [US] 380.”