LBJ East

The massive plan to rebuild I-635 between I-75 and I-30 has languished for close to 20 years, but suddenly a long-awaited bluebird has appeared.

Local and state officials wrangled a compromise after a longstanding dispute over constructing optional toll lanes on the 10.8-mile stretch of interstate known as LBJ East. One component of the project, the dreaded LBJ-Skillman intersection, may begin this year, although it will be months before neighbors see herds of heavy road-moving equipment.

Once completed, LBJ East will feature unbroken access roads and one managed toll lane in each direction, a concession from the Regional Transportation Council (RTC), who argued that each side should include two optional toll lanes.

The RTC insisted that the best way to unclog traffic would be tweaking toll prices during rush hour. Funding for the project was still short, and local planners needed the few hundred million dollars that extra toll lanes would generate. After years of negotiation, the project was close to commencing in Dec. 2017.

Then Gov. Greg Abbott, who launched a “No New Toll Taxes” crusade, waved them off.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) dropped 15 highway projects, many of which included toll roads, on his desk for his sign-off, and Abbott deleted several huge projects including LBJ East from the 10-year highway plan. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and State senators Bob Hall and Don Huffines worked with Abbott to advocate against toll roads, whether they were optional or not.

It’s taken months for local and state officials to agree upon one optional, managed toll lane in each direction.

“While it may not be what some people would consider the perfect situation, it’s 80 percent of perfect,” says City Councilman Lee Kleinman, who chairs the City of Dallas’ Transportation Committee.

He and Councilman Adam McGough have led much of the effort for the DFW team. Kleinman is encouraged, but “it’s sensitive,” he says. The compromise first must get through the 40-plus members of the RTC, which meets Thursday in Arlington. The Texas Transportation Commission is slated to vote in late May.

If both bodies approve the deal, shovels won’t begin digging on the interstate for at least another year. Preliminary designs already have been completed for the project, but the final design still needs to be approved before the bidding process begins.

LBJ East “has the potential to be the most transformative project of our lifetime,” according to the booster group LBJNOW. If everything happens as anticipated, it appears the 200,000 drivers who fight the state’s most congested and dangerous highway can at least start the long countdown now.