A plan to improve U.S. Highway 75 between the Sam Rayburn Tollway and Interstate Highway 635 will be moving forward after an agreement was reached between local officials and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
The corridor’s underused HOV lanes will effectively become general purpose lanes, although a small toll will be required about 6 percent of the time.
Because the HOV lanes were built with funding through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, current federal law dictates that they cannot become pure general-purpose lanes. Federal law requires that they must retain an HOV component with the ability for HOV users to move at reasonable speeds.
Officials from the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) met with staff from FHWA to move the project forward. The agreement calls for the lanes to be general purpose – no toll, no HOV requirement – about 94 percent of the time, but to charge southbound single-occupant vehicles – SOVs – using the lane a minimal toll for selected hours weekday mornings and northbound SOVs using the lane a small toll for selected hours in the evening. Vehicles with two or more occupants will be able to use the new lanes without being charged. The lanes will remain open as non-tolled general-purpose lanes for the rest of the day and weekends, operating around the clock.
According to a release from NCTCOG, Collin County Commissioner Duncan Webb, a member of NCTCOG’s Regional Transportation Council doesn’t like the federal mandate, "but given the current alternative of leaving the HOV lanes underused and ineffective, the solution to move forward as required by FHWA seems to be the best and only option to legally provide material congestion relief to the users of US 75, north of IH 635.”
“Collin County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, which creates transportation challenges,” Webb said. “The RTC and our transportation partners have developed a solution that will improve the use, capacity and reliability of one of the county’s most important transportation corridors. It was critical to our residents that any agreement minimize any required tolling on the lanes while we will continue working with our local congressional delegation to change the law and eliminate the toll. All partners are eager to identify the elements of the permanent solution on U.S. 75.”
TxDOT is completing an environmental review of the corridor and will be ready to begin transition of the HOV lanes in 2019. Initially, the new lanes will operate from Bethany Drive in Allen to Interstate 635. A planned interchange at Ridgeview Drive and U.S. 75 will allow the lanes to extend north to the Sam Rayburn Tollway once the interchange is complete, in 2025. The $28 million interchange is expected to receive environmental clearance by June, with construction slated to begin in September 2022.
“Our efforts to address the underutilized high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes along U.S. 75 is a perfect example of how we collaborate on a local, county and state level to improve mobility for our citizens,” said Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere.
“The goal of this project is to increase the capacity of U.S. 75 in order to make the fast-growing corridor more efficient for commuters, residents and businesses in the area,” said Allen Mayor Steve Terrell. “Collin County continues to experience substantial growth, and it is important that we address transportation needs along this corridor while doing so in a way that is fair to motorists. Lanes that remain toll-free most of the time was a fair and equitable way to improve reliability.”
Collin County added approximately 37,000 residents in 2017, accounting for 26 percent of the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s growth, according to NCTCOG data.
Limited-access highways have been built to accommodate the increased population. The Sam Rayburn Tollway, George Bush Turnpike and Dallas North Tollway are all essential highways, but each is a toll road.
Both Collin County leaders and their constituents want more non-tolled options to be part of the transportation system going forward.
“While it is unfortunate that archaic federal law prohibits this vital stretch of U.S. Highway 75 in Collin County from being opened to completely free traffic, the current plan is the best possible option for our commuters, taxpayers and residents at this time,” said State Representative Jeff Leach. “I appreciate the opportunity to work with Commissioner Duncan Webb on this important issue, and I look forward to continuing to advocate with him and our other local, state and federal authorities to ensure efficient and effective transit options for the people we are elected to serve.”