Tuesday, 12 July 2011
GRAPEVINE — Drivers have endured nearly 18 months of construction along highways 121 and 114 as part of the Texas Department of Transportation’s $1.02 billion DFW Connector project, but NorthGate Constructors — halfway done with its most important year of work — has good news.
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“By the end of this year, we’ll be 50 percent complete with this project,” spokeswoman Kristen Schropp said. “It’s very exciting.”
Grapevine Transportation Director Jerry Hodge says progress can be measured in fresh white concrete, growing columns and rebar beams.
Drivers are already driving on more than 15 lane miles of new pavement and on new bridges north of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. And workers have a number of “hot” projects set to finish in the coming months.
In a matter of weeks, NorthGate will unveil the first of its major structures: the eastbound Hwy. 114 to northbound Hwy. 121 flyover.
That opening is expected to ease congestion, Schropp said, and help with traffic flow around DFW Airport.
A few months later, drivers will see significant progress in the heart of the project.
The first half of the expanded William D. Tate bridge is expected to open at the end of November, Schropp said, as is the new westbound Hwy. 114 frontage to southbound Hwy. 121 bridge just west of Main Street.
And though third-party utility relocations on the north end of Main Street bridge will continue to force lane closures, officials anticipate that bridge and its intersections will be complete around Thanksgiving. Utility relocations around Main Street may not finish until late 2012, Schropp said, but that bridge’s completion is important to the project as a whole.
“We need to be able to work under the bridge on 114 and 121,” she said. “So that’s a critical area for us.”
By the end of the month, NorthGate expects to start deck construction on the westbound Hwy. 114 main lane and frontage road bridges over Hwy. 26. The project’s largest pair of bridges, connecting eastbound Hwy. 114 to southbound Hwy. 121 and northbound Hwy. 121 to westbound Hwy. 114 near William D. Tate Avenue, are also underway (set for completion in 2013). And if everything remains on schedule, work on the FM 1709 bridge will also kick off at the end of the year and work on the Texan Trail bridge will begin in early 2012.
“We knew 2011 was going to be important,” Schropp said. “And I think people are seeing the worst of the closures and the best of the construction this year.”
Workers have been feverishly advancing on projects around DFW Airport in recent months as well, Schropp said. As a result, drivers will move onto new southbound International Parkway construction and the new eastbound Hwy. 114 to southbound International Parkway ramp early next year.
During the second quarter of 2012, NorthGate will also open the northbound International Parkway to eastbound Hwy. 114 ramp. And by the end of summer 2012, the westbound Hwy. 114 to southbound International Parkway bridge will be complete.
NorthGate, in partnership with surrounding cities, has paired its most important year of construction with new efforts to increase safety in the 24/7 work zone.
A recent study conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute found that one in every eight motorists driving along the DFW Connector during the day were observed using a handheld cellphone. Officials say an overwhelming majority of motorists also speed through the work zone, causing traffic-congesting accidents and creating unsafe working conditions for NorthGate employees.
The Texas Department of Transportation dropped the speed limit along portions of Hwy. 121 and Hwy. 114 to 50 mph earlier this year, but police say motorists have been slow to hit the brakes. Grapevine police stepped up speed enforcement along the project’s primary corridor in May, targeting drivers most often going 20 mph over the speed limit or more. Police in Southlake and Irving have also answered the call, Schropp said. Police say it is difficult to tell whether the increased enforcement is slowing traffic, but they hope their visibility will help keep drivers and NorthGate workers safe.
“We weren’t getting voluntary compliance, so we’re going to get compliance this way,” said Lt. Todd Dearing, public information officer for the Grapevine Police Department. “People don’t like it, but that’s what gets people’s attention.”
In the enforcement initiative’s first month, Grapevine officers alone handed out more than 700 tickets in the project’s primary corridor. Dearing said police would continue ticketing until drivers slowed down.
In addition to working with police, NorthGate launched a safety awareness campaign this summer. The company’s signature yellow pickup trucks now sport bumper stickers that read, “If you’re passing me, you’re passing the speed limit. SLOW DOWN! It’s 50 mph.” And three new banners encouraging safe driving have gone up along the project, offering advice such as, “It’s not a race. Slow your pace” and, “This could be YOU!” beside a photo of a driver being ticketed. NorthGate is also creating a work zone safety webpage, and by the end of the summer it plans to launch a Web-based safe driving pledge that DFW Connector drivers can sign.
For progress updates and regular road closure information, visit www.dfwconnector.com.