No metropolitan area in the United States took on more new residents in 2017 than Dallas/Fort Worth. The area known as the Metroplex added 146,000 newcomers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A region that had slightly more than 7 million people in 2015 is expected to grow to more than 16 million by 2050.
This growth has meant the need for two things: more roads and the resources to pay for them. Texas voters made this statement clear when they overwhelmingly voted in favor of two ballot propositions to direct certain tax revenues to the state highway fund.
The state responded by setting up the Texas Clear Lanes initiative to allocate funding for needed highway improvements that would relieve traffic gridlock in the state’s largest metropolitan areas.
And a Kiewit project was the first beneficiary of Texas Clear Lanes, with the first $61 million of the funding tapped for reconstruction of the interchange of two major state highways, SH 121 and SH 360, in Grapevine.
The SH 121/SH 360 interchange was Kiewit’s third extension related to the DFW Connector, a $1.2 billion reconstruction of the network of highways on the north side of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The new interchange will carry more than 168,000 cars per day.
A new challenge
“Once funding was identified for congestion relief, (the SH 121/SH 360 Interchange) was our first choice to add back into the project,” said Joel Mallard, Project Manager for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Fort Worth District. “By reconstructing this interchange, we are able to separate traffic movements, which in turn cuts down weaving and merging.”
The new interchange was necessary because SH 114, SH 121 and SH 360 came together in a span of roadway of little more than a mile. State Highway 360 met its northern terminus at State Highway 121, with two lanes of traffic merging onto the highway from the right to go with the three lanes already coming north on SH 121.
And just ahead, those two merging lanes became exit lanes for a ramp connecting to State Highway 114. This meant motorists merging on and off SH 121 needed to cross in front of each other, and this “weaving” created a traffic hazard that TxDOT was eager to address.
Earning the work
The seeds for the SH 121/SH 360 Interchange project — and Kiewit receiving the work — were sown through a successful completion of the main DFW Connector construction and the first two additions to it. Those included the reconstruction of FM 2499 at the north of the DFW Connector and the construction of new ramps leading local traffic onto State Highways 121 and 360 on the southwest edge of the DFW Connector.
After four years of work on the main DFW Connector project, Kiewit completed these additional projects in less than two years.
“That gave TxDOT another occurrence where we could finish a project quickly, which was a key to some of the Texas Clear Lanes funding,” said Tom Grim, Project Director for NorthGate Constructors, a joint venture of Kiewit and Zachry Construction that completed the Connector projects.
The new configuration allows motorists coming north on SH 360 to bypass SH 121 entirely to get on SH 114 via a new ramp, while another new ramp on northbound SH 121 takes motorists directly to SH 114 before the merger with SH 360. These two new ramps eliminate the weaving.
NorthGate broke ground on the project in August 2016 and completed the work seven months ahead of schedule in April 2018, thanks in part to including the project in its original design-build bid for the DFW Connector. The project was ready to begin once TxDOT secured the funding.
NorthGate maintained a strong working relationship with TxDOT through the DFW Connector project and the first two additional projects, and in addition was able to carry over most of the main subcontractors who supported the projects onto the SH 121/SH 360 interchange.
As a result, all of this work has been secured under one contract since October 2009. An additional project, for the $371 million reconfiguration of the SH 121/Interstate 635 interchange north of the DFW Connector, is next on tap.
A win for the people
In addition to the efficient reconstruction of the SH 121/SH 360 Interchange, the story is also one of success for Kiewit’s employees.
Several craft employees on the interchange project have gone into Kiewit’s development program to become foremen or superintendents. In addition, four members of the team started as engineers or foremen and have since become project superintendents.
“One of the biggest things I’m proud of is the people development,” said Ryan Keller, deputy project director for NorthGate. “That development was a focus of the team. Even though it was just an extension project, we were able to bring new people onto the team and develop them.”