When Harsha Nagaraj moved to Haslet in 2018, he could drive to Costco, two miles from his home in the Berkshire neighborhood, in just five minutes.
However, that’s not the case anymore. Nagaraj has found that his trips now take much longer, whether he is running errands or trying to get to Interstate 35W for work.
The main culprit for the slowdown? Increased congestion along U.S. Highway 81/U.S. Highway 287.
“We end up not even getting on 287 and go on local roads now,” Nagaraj said. “It’s horrible.”
Haslet saw a 31% increase in its population since 2022, the second largest percentage increase in population in North Texas.
The project is about to be fully environmentally cleared, and it recently received a major boost in state funding as part of TxDOT’s 2024 Unified Transportation Plan. Funding adjustment opened up an additional $74.6 million. However, $115 million in funding still needs to be acquired.
The total price tag for the corridor reconstruction is $344 million.
Safety, bottlenecks and flow
When Berkshire resident Jacqui Pawlowski moved to far north Fort Worth with her husband and baby in 2020, she expected construction as the area was being built out. But she knew that work would pay off in the end.
However, traffic got hectic — very quickly.
“It was very difficult to get anywhere on the other side of 287 and I-35, to get to Heritage Trace Parkway if I wanted to go to a particular shop,” Pawlowski said.
For many residents in the area, it’s all about finding the right time to head out to avoid peak congestion.
“I only really go out to do errands if I have to — only because of the traffic,” Pawlowski said.
In addition to the ongoing development bringing in more cars to this part of Tarrant County, residents have concerns about the layout of the road network.
U.S. 81/ U.S. 287 is currently a four-lane state highway, with two lanes going in each direction. Many of the adjacent roads have either roundabouts or stop signs to slow traffic instead of signal lights. And in places where there are lights, Pawlowski said they are not properly timed.
When it comes to safety, residents say the on- and off-ramps are not strategically placed, which can make merging onto the highway dangerous. There is also no direct connection between U.S. 81/U.S. 287 and I-35W going northbound. Heritage Trace Parkway on either side of the road does not connect.
That disconnect creates an issue for commuters trying to go to work in Denton, Alliance or surrounding communities.
“Even the local routes to get onto I-35 have (seen) more traffic without that access on 287,” Nagaraj said.
New lanes, ramps and funding
The Texas Department of Transportation is looking to add one main lane in each direction to the road, bringing the total number of lanes up to six. Continuous frontage roads in each direction and adding some bike and pedestrian paths are also part of the plan. Some ramps will also be relocated to better accommodate traffic and address safety.
The goal is to complete work along this corridor in one go, improving mobility and safety in the long run, Jeff Neal, senior program manager at the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said.
In order to do that, the agency has applied to receive a Mega Grant to close the gap on the missing $115 million to fully fund the project.
“It gives us, really, in many cases, the rare opportunity to be able to build a fully environmentally clear project at one time. Go in the corridor, build what has to be done and get out,” Neal said. “And we hope that by doing that, there’s a lot greater chance of being able to accommodate future traffic for a longer period of time.”
Construction along U.S. 81/U.S. 287 is set to start in 2026 and be completed in 2030. Neal said large-scale projects like this one are developed with an area’s future needs in mind rather than present traffic demand. To accomplish that, 20 to 30-year projections are used.
“We believe that (this plan) has enough capacity to account for the traffic to our best projections possible,” Neal said.
According to TxDOT, the average annual daily traffic on that roadway was nearly 63,000 in 2022.
But residents like Nagaraj think a targeted completion in 2030 is too far out.
“That might be another, like, 10,000 or 20,000 people,” Nagaraj said. “There are new neighborhoods coming up.”
The city of Haslet is expected to double its population by 2050. Nearby cities like Saginaw and Blue Mound are also expected to grow their population by 21% and 33.5% respectively between 2020 and 2050.
Other projects taking place alongside the U.S. 81/U.S. 287 undertaking include work being done on Heritage Trace Parkway and improvements to rail crossings at Bonds Ranch Road, in the Haslet-Fort Worth-Saginaw corridor.
Timing, so as to avoid creating more bottlenecks in an already fast-growing area of Tarrant County, is key, Neal said.
The impact of the project is so significant that it’s considered the second highest priority project in TxDOT’s Fort Worth district behind the billion-dollar Southeast Connector project.
“That area is going to see some tremendous improvement over these next several years, particularly if we can get the (U.S.) 287 project fully funded,” Neal said. “The benefits in that area would be terrific in terms of new mobility, reliability, accessibility, and for multiple modes as well.”
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ssadek19.
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