The PGBT widening project comes as daily traffic counts have increased by as much as 23% from 2014-19 on portions of the tollway near Irving and Coppell, according to North Texas Tollway Authority data.
Improving traffic flow is also expected to help reduce air pollution and get the area back in compliance with federal air quality standards, transportation officials said. The Dallas-Fort Worth region is not meeting national standards for ozone levels and is at risk of losing federal funding, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
“We are trying to decrease congestion while trying to add lanes on the roadway to allow more drivers to get there,” NTTA spokesperson Michael Rey said. “[PGBT] is … a major route to the D/FW Airport for people coming from the north and the south. So the demand is increasing. We’re feeling it.”
The NTTA’s $150 million PGBT widening project includes the addition of a fourth lane in both directions of traffic throughout most of the tollway.
Crews began construction in Coppell, Valley Ranch and Las Colinas in August. The project is estimated to be complete in late 2021.
The PGBT widening project is just one portion of the NTTA’s efforts to expand its major roadways.
“It’s approaching $2 billion … in improvements from parts of the Dallas North Tollway, … the entire Sam Rayburn Tollway and almost all of the President George Bush Turnpike,” Rey said.
The latest phase of construction spans from the intersection of the PGBT and I-35E in Carrollton to the Belt Line Road intersection in southern Irving. That phase is expected to cost the NTTA $29 million.
More drivers are taking to the tollway as the region’s population continues to increase. North Central Texas Council of Governments, which helps with regional planning, projects the area’s population will reach 11 million people by 2045.
Meanwhile, daily transactions at the Belt Line Road toll gantry in Irving increased by about 20,000 vehicles from 2014-19, according to NTTA.
Crews will add the new lanes to the grassy median of the tollway rather than the exterior shoulders. Transportation planners at the NCTCOG credit the NTTA with mitigating major traffic disruptions by keeping the construction work within the median.
“It is a little narrower in there, so there is some inconvenience to drivers with those walls, but we don’t have to close as many lanes to do the actual construction itself,” Rey said. “A lot of it can be contained within the middle of the roadway.”
The Texas Department of Transportation owns a portion of PGBT south of Belt Line and north of SH 183 in Irving. The agency is working on a separate $21 million project to expand the roadway to eight lanes. That project began in October 2018 and is expected to be complete by August 2020.
City officials in Coppell and Irving said neither is doing any additional road work as part of the PGBT widening project.
Construction on the eastern reaches of the tollway began in July 2017 near SH 78 in Garland. The fourth lanes from SH 78 to the Dallas North Tollway in Plano are now open.
Adding the fourth lanes will be the end of widening efforts along the PGBT for the foreseeable future, Rey said. The NCTCOG limits transportation agencies from expanding highways beyond five lanes in both directions because of the diminishing returns.
“Once you add that fifth lane, you don’t actually add a lane of capacity,” NCTCOG Program Manager Kevin Feldt said. “You’re actually adding maybe 75% of that lane capacity because of [drivers] merging and weaving.”
More lanes result in vehicles changing lanes more frequently, or “weaving,” which causes heavier congestion, Feldt said.
Regional environmental quality
Improving road congestion can affect more than drivers’ commutes.
“The more free flow the traffic is, the better it is for our air quality,” Feldt said.
Other than working with transportation agencies to improve traffic flow, the NCTCOG also works to improve regional air quality.
“The Dallas-Fort Worth area is in non-attainment [status] for ozone,” Feldt said. “If we continue to be in non-attainment, we end up in a big problem with the federal government, and they shut down our funding.”
The counties deemed as non-attainment status are Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Johnson, Kaufman, Parker, Tarrant and Wise counties.
The region has until August 2021 to get back into attainment, according to the TCEQ.
Other efforts to improve air quality include limiting the amount of time airplanes are allowed to sit idling, requiring construction vehicles to use clean-burning diesel engines and encouraging the use of public transit, Feldt said.
Coppell residents have access to Dallas Area Rapid Transit light-rail stations in Carrollton, and a new station will be constructed at the nearby Cypress Waters mixed-use development by 2022, according to the transit agency. Both Valley Ranch and Las Colinas have DART bus service, and Las Colinas has several light-rail stations via DART’s Orange Line.
That access to public transit may help relieve traffic during the tollway’s construction period.
“The fact that [the Orange Line] accesses Las Colinas with the large employment base there, it may have taken some vehicles of [the President George] Bush Turnpike already,” Feldt said.