Highway to hell or heaven?Bill Clinton was president when Lake Highlands leaders first began dreaming of a glorious new LBJ Freeway. Those ambitious planners named the new road “LBJ Ultimate.” Twenty years passed, with negotiations and meetings. Eventually, some privately hoped they could just achieve “LBJ Anything-But-This.” A handful of the original dreamers are still around, and a new generation of fed-up motorists joined them. Now this volunteer squad appears to have pulled off a moon shot. They have the money — about $1.6 billion. They have a plan. And if we hang on for six or seven more years, engineers say we should be able to average 50 mph at rush hour along the 11 miles of Interstate 635 between U.S. Highway 75 and Interstate 30. This stretch of interstate, now known by the modest handle “LBJ East,” will have more free lanes and one or two express lanes to soak up some of the excess traffic. Continuous frontage roads will replace the fragmented patchwork of access roads that confuse today’s drivers and render a lot of prime real estate worthless for business development. Many in Lake Highlands consider the crown jewel of the project to be the Skillman Gateway, an arched bridge that will flow into an all-new interchange and straighten out the bewildering maze where Audelia and Skillman meet. Concrete pillars supporting sound-damping walls are popping up near homes that back up to LBJ. Homeowners have been begging for these walls for years, desperate for some relief from the droning roar of traffic. A few of the project’s champions reflected on the bruising journey that brought us to this point. And they recall, most important, their delighted amazement as a platoon of rookie civic activists joined them at the eleventh hour “It was the community getting active and fighting for what is most important to them and just watching it,” Dallas City Councilman Adam McGough says. “For me, it was a beautiful thing.” Click on the questions below to find out more about LBJ East.
What Do We Get?
Michael Morris: It’s kind of like when Central Expressway was built. Central Expressway didn’t have continuous frontage roads. So all those short trips that used to get on the freeway are now on the frontage roads. And that’s going to happen on LBJ.
Adam McGough: The priority is that the [Skillman Gateway] goes first as soon as we possibly can, but there’s no way to know what the timeline will be on the bridge itself.
Why the hold up?
Brad McCutcheon, firefighter and first-time activist: The opposition, the lawmakers who were making the decisions, were never really able to demonstrate any tangible opposition, other than just themselves.
What is LBJ Now?
Some people who theoretically work for us had decided that this project was going to get pulled, and we were able to quantify our support and I think influence them to reverse their decision. Yeah, it was very rewarding.
What’s the cost of compromise?
Susan Morgan: It is not what the public had asked for. It is not what the public had approved, but we’re willing to go ahead with it.
Why such opposition?
Susan Morgan: They continue to confuse the issue with their rhetoric, because their focus is on campaigning. You can’t adequately address the intricacies of transportation in a campaign slogan.
Give it a grade
Adam McGough: I’d say a solid B that could either turn into an A, or could drop down to a C-minus depending upon how this thing ends up over the next couple of years. The really special part about this has been the community engagement in this process. Because without that, we’re not even sitting here talking about it.