The North Texas Tollway Authority’s Sam Rayburn Tollway widening project began in January 2019 and will add a fourth lane in both directions from Denton Tap Road in Coppell to US 75 in McKinney. The project also calls for ramp improvements in Plano between the Dallas North Tollway and Preston Road.
The Sam Rayburn Tollway widening project aims to improve regional mobility, as the population of North Texas is projected to exceed 11 million in the coming decades.
The entire 26-mile corridor is under construction at once so crews can get ahead on project progress, NTTA spokesperson Michael Rey said.
“The work is being done in the center median for safety reasons and to lessen the impact to drivers,” Rey said.
Rey said decreased traffic on the tollway due to the COVID-19 pandemic allowed construction crews to begin work sooner and extend work later into the day.
“From March through May, NTTA traffic engineers extended the times of permissible lane and ramp closures on the [Dallas North Tollway], [the President George Bush Turnpike] and [the Sam Rayburn Tollway] to advance key construction and maintenance projects while traffic counts were low,” Rey said in his email. “Those extended lane closure hours were discontinued in June.”
However, the reduction in traffic had an adverse effect on NTTA’s toll transactions and revenue, according to a May 20 report by the toll authority. In May, NTTA traffic was down 42% as compared to the same month the previous year. April’s traffic drop was steeper: a 57% year-over-year drop.
That toll revenue is used to finance road improvements. These projects do not receive federal funding, said Kevin Feldt, program manager for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which oversees mobility in the region. Rey said funding for the expansion will not be affected by revenue dips. The project is still on track for completion in late 2021.
From January to April, crews excavated in the tollway’s median, began asphalt and concrete paving, worked on intersection bridges and continued building a new ramp on Parkwood Boulevard in Frisco, per the report.
Part of the SRT expansion involves adding lanes to existing bridges at several intersections. The process for this includes demolitions and adding foundation, columns, beams and a bridge deck, Rey said.
As businesses and residents return to work and traffic increases, Rey said NTTA project and traffic engineers will evaluate tollway and intersection closures on a weekly basis.
More work scheduled
Work is continuing on the 26-mile tollway, according to a summer 2020 progress report by NTTA.
The construction has required occasional single-lane closures, Rey said in the email.
Construction has been particularly disruptive in recent weeks at four major Plano intersections.
Foundation and column construction has required twice-daily closures of U-turn and right-turn lanes at Parkwood Boulevard, Preston Road, Rasor Boulevard and Coit Road, Rey said. Some U-turn lanes have been closed for drainage work, he said.
Crews have also had to close other lanes on Preston Road nightly through the month of August as they place new deck panels, Rey said. The closures start at 10 p.m. and end at 5 a.m.
These repairs and others are in response to the needs of a rapidly growing Collin County population, Rey said.
The tollway project is expected to provide some relief to heavily trafficked areas along the project corridor, Feldt said.
There are no plans to expand the tollway beyond four lanes, officials said.
Transportation planners should explore more solutions to improving mobility other than expanding highways, Feldt said. Cities should also keep an eye on the future and try to get ahead of transportation needs before they happen.
“It’s much better to be proactive than reactive,” Feldt said.
The Sam Rayburn Tollway corridor has been one of Plano’s most active areas of development in recent years.
The $3 billion Legacy West development brought sprawling new office campuses and thousands of jobs to Plano, including at Toyota Motor North America, Liberty Mutual, JPMorgan Chase and FedEx Office. All of these businesses have direct access to Sam Rayburn Tollway.
On the other side of the tollway in McKinney, the Craig Ranch development has benefited greatly from access to the tollway, said James Craig, president of Craig International, a real estate brokerage, development and consulting company located in McKinney. Its CEO, David Craig, was the master developer of Craig Ranch.
“The Sam Rayburn Tollway has been an integral component of our success,” James Craig said. “It put us within a 20-[minute] to 25-minute drive time to DFW Airport, which is something corporate America wants to see. So when corporations are considering the McKinney Corporate Center at Craig Ranch, that’s an important box that they can check. As far as I’m concerned, the more mobility, the better.”