“We are coming down the homestretch,” NTTA spokesperson Michael Rey said. “We are on schedule [and] on budget. Everything is going as planned.”
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.
In Plano, work to add a new exit ramp between the Dallas North Tollway and Preston Road is meant to separate traffic for motorists exiting the Sam Rayburn Tollway and for those entering the Dallas North Tollway.
“[The ramp] will kind of flow down to Preston a little bit differently than it is now and help that interchange smooth out a little,” Rey said, adding that road widening construction is still ongoing on the section of the tollway over Parkwood Boulevard.
While construction has wrapped up on some sections along the corridor, 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 regional 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 existing bridges at several intersections. This process includes demolition work and adding foundation, columns, beams and a bridge deck, Rey said.
Matt Tilke, Plano senior traffic engineer, said the project is important for drivers across North Texas.
“We expect much improved mobility and safety along that corridor with improved access to businesses alongside it,” he said.
The tollway separates Plano and Frisco. Tilke said this has helped both cities keep congestion on and alongside the tollway at a minimum.
“It will be more intuitive. That’s very helpful,” Tilke said.
The project is paid for through the NTTA’s Capital Improvement Fund, which consists of toll revenue available after operations, debt services and reserve maintenance costs have been paid.
Collin County Commissioner Duncan Webb said projects that expand transportation infrastructure are 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.
As more employees began working from home, rush hour congestion reduced significantly, Webb said. Some areas of the metroplex are now seeing traffic drop by between 7% and 10% compared to pre-pandemic levels, he added.
As part of its long-term mobility plan for the region, the North Central Texas Council of Governments wants companies to consider designating at least one day per week to remote work.
“It can’t be mandated; it’s just a goal,” Webb said. “The hope is [remote work] ... will allow us to continue to grow without the congestion experienced by other large metropolitan areas.”
These growth projections are reflected in NTTA’s budget, which estimates revenue to total $5.5 billion between fiscal years 2020-2024. In fiscal year 2021, 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, according to NTTA officials.
Rey said one benefit of the project is construction occurred in the middle of the highway, which lessened the affect 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 is still underway. NTTA is also working on striping and improving landscaping along the corridor.
More information and updates on the project can be found at www.ntta.org.