MEGAPROJECT: Easily entertained

March 10, 2011

The I-30 Three Bridges Project is the central unifying element in the ongoing transformation of Arlington, Texas, from aging inner-ring suburb to the thriving center of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.


This 3-mile renovation project knits together attractions such as Cowboys Stadium, Texas Rangers Ballpark, Six Flags Over Texas, Hurricane Harbor and the Arlington Convention Center. With construction completed in January 2011, the enhanced facility welcomed travelers from all over the world coming to attend the 2011 Super Bowl at the new Cowboys Stadium.

The I-30 Three Bridges Project is the central unifying element in the ongoing transformation of Arlington, Texas, from aging inner-ring suburb to the thriving center of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

This 3-mile renovation project knits together attractions such as Cowboys Stadium, Texas Rangers Ballpark, Six Flags Over Texas, Hurricane Harbor and the Arlington Convention Center. With construction completed in January 2011, the enhanced facility welcomed travelers from all over the world coming to attend the 2011 Super Bowl at the new Cowboys Stadium.

From used cars to new drive

In the 1950s, Arlington was a small community of 7,700 people. It was best known for the “Arlington Auto Mile,” a series of car dealerships along U.S. Highway 80, which was the highway connecting Dallas to Fort Worth. In 1951, 25-year-old Mayor Tom Vandergriff began an aggressive approach over the next 26 years to attract new businesses and entertainment venues to the city, the first of which was General Motors in 1954. As traffic between Dallas and Fort Worth increased, the DFW Turnpike, a toll road with limited access, was constructed in 1957. Vandergriff took advantage of this new facility and lured Six Flags Over Texas, Wet ’n Wild (now Hurricane Harbor) and the Texas Rangers to build facilities along this corridor. In 1977, the tollbooths were removed, and the thoroughfare became part of the Interstate Highway System, designated as I-30. Being a former toll road, however, the highway still had limited access, and this is where the story of the I-30 Three Bridges Project begins.

My food is cold

By 2004, Arlington had grown to 360,000 people and was being recognized as a national tourism destination. Traffic on I-30 had increased to more than 100,000 cars a day, and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) realized that the existing main lanes needed additional capacity and the old turnpike interchanges replaced. However, there was only enough funding to add one through lane in each direction. The city of Arlington and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, however, had other ideas. For years, properties in the corridor stood undeveloped, and existing businesses suffered due to inadequate access. Also, an existing TxDOT maintenance complex not only occupied prime real estate but also discouraged development around it.

About this time, a local restaurant owner along I-30 became frustrated because customers were constantly complaining about how difficult it was to get to his restaurant. He contacted Innovative Transportation Solutions to provide alternatives that might remedy this access issue. Rather than try to describe the existing situation to TxDOT in an office meeting, the consultant invited the Fort Worth district engineer to lunch at the restaurant. The TxDOT engineer, who had a sterling reputation for promptness, didn’t show up. The consultant called him on his mobile phone, and he said he was lost and needed help to get there. That experience went a long way toward helping TxDOT understand the significance of the access problems.

What do you think?

Many other businesses along the corridor were having similar problems, so the city of Arlington and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce requested that TxDOT allow time for an engineering study to be conducted. They also opened negotiation with TxDOT for the relocation of the maintenance facility. The objective was to develop a conceptual plan for the improvements necessary to not only accommodate the increased traffic demands, but also to improve access that would make the corridor more attractive for development. The city of Arlington hired Graham Associates Inc. (GAI) to prepare the conceptual design.

Since very little had been done to improve the access since the freeway had become an interstate, the entrances and exits were limited, and they still had long, circuitous routes to accommodate the old tollbooths. In analyzing the traffic model of the existing freeway, it was painfully clear that, as traffic demands continued to increase, vehicles would stack up on the freeway as they attempted to exit. Without significant changes, the existing configuration would adversely affect the safety and mobility of the freeway. Increasing entrance- and exit-ramp capacity had to be an essential element of the freeway improvements for both access and mobility.

Another challenge was the absence of continuous frontage roads. In various locations parallel to the freeway, disjointed two-way city streets were present but, in others, no parallel roads existed at all. Continuous one-way frontage roads were definitely needed; however, the challenge involved changing the mindset of businesses whose patrons had become accustomed to two-way access.

As part of the engineering study, contacting and meeting with the stakeholders was a priority. The meetings were very successful in obtaining consensus from the interested parties. These meetings did not circumvent or replace any of the mandatory local, state and federal meetings, but instead provided additional meaningful input from the stakeholders, input that was utilized in preparation of the conceptual plan. This established tremendous public support for the project at the very beginning, while also opening up a line of communication as preparation of the conceptual plan began. TxDOT accepted the recommendations for improved access in this study, which resulted in significant changes to the original scheme for the I-30 improvements.

Several key design elements from the engineering study were included in the final design. These elements included:

  • More efficient interchanges;
  • Bridges that were “pedestrian-friendly” to provide easier access to and from the entertainment district;
  • Continuous one-way frontage roads with “Texas Turnarounds” (noncontrolled connection), which provided a shorter travel time to every business in the corridor and improved safety;
  • An HOV/managed lane facility that also could be used to move traffic in and out of Six Flags and the Rangers Ballpark; and
  • Widening the freeway from three lanes in each direction to five lanes.
  • Bridges that in-spire In recent years, TxDOT has added 1%-2% to construction contracts for enhancements. The design team saw this as an opportunity to add what would be called “Branding Arlington at 60 mph.” An enhancement concepts plan was prepared by Townscape Inc. and Schrickel, Rollins and Associates Inc. (SRA) that provided design concepts for walkways, bridges that displayed obelisks and spires, decorative paving, shade canopies, pedestrian corridors, bike lanes, murals and planting. The plan, which was an American Society of Landscape Architects Merit Award winner, was accepted by TxDOT and the city of Arlington and was utilized to create a consistent, unified image throughout the corridor. Along with more efficient traffic movement, the Three Bridges Project would define a distinct image for Arlington’s I-30 corridor and create a sense of arrival for its entertainment district. These improvements would make this corridor more than just a drive. It would become an experience. During this phase, Arlington Chamber of Commerce CEO Wes Jurey stated, “You’ve done nothing less than create a community character where none existed before.” Roller-coaster schedule Once TxDOT approved the conceptual and enhancement plans, the city of Arlington wasted no time in moving forward with the project. The two largest Arlington engineering consulting firms, GAI and SRA, joined forces as a joint venture to pursue the project. In December 2002, the city of Arlington awarded a design contract for the I-30 improvements (Three Bridges Project) to the joint venture, anticipating plan approval sometime in 2006. In November 2004, however, the city of Arlington passed a $325 million bond election to participate in the construction of a new Cowboys Stadium near the current Rangers Ballpark. Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones saw the improvements to I-30 as one of the key factors that resulted in the site selected for the stadium. “We would not have considered this site for our new stadium without the proposed improvements to I-30,” Jones said. Construction of this new stadium would be completed for the 2009 season. With a preliminary construction time estimate of four years for I-30, the proposed project was suddenly behind schedule and went from not being on TxDOT’s radar to being under close scrutiny. After completing the preliminary schematic and submitting 60% construction plans in December 2005, the design team learned the results of a tollway feasibility study mandated by the Texas Transportation Commission that recommended a two-lane reversible HOV/managed-lane facility rather than the one-lane facility as designed. The additional lane—in an already constrained corridor—meant considerable redesign, and there was now just over three years until the opening of the new stadium. To get construction under way, TxDOT allowed the design team to break out the $19 million Center Street Bridge as a separate project with its own environmental documentation. In less than four months (September 2006), both the Center Street 95% plans, specifications and estimates (PS&E) and the revised overall schematic were submitted to TxDOT for review. The pace for the remainder of the project still had to be accelerated to allow all of the eastbound main lanes, ramps, collector/distributor lanes and frontage roads to be complete by the first stadium event in May 2009. To accomplish this, construction had to begin in August 2007. TxDOT developed a schedule of submissions to meet that date and committed to expedite reviews. This aggressive schedule gave the design team a little over six months to prepare the PS&E for an estimated $154 million worth of improvements. Several key challenges that the design team faced in the preparation of the construction plans included:
    • Fitting the proposed improvements within a confined corridor—The existing facility was expanded from as few as eight total lanes to as many as 23 lanes, including main lanes, distributor/collectors, ramps and frontage roads;
    • Configuring entrance/exit ramps to function efficiently without impeding access to businesses;
    • Keeping the stakeholders informed and in support of the project;
    • Coordinating the relocation of city and franchise utilities; and
    • Successfully completing an accelerated schedule while making major revisions as the project evolved.
    • In September 2006, the design team began working nights and weekends to keep the project on schedule. On Jan. 10, 2007, the Center Street project was awarded to Zachry Construction Corp. at a cost of $18.7 million (3.3% under budget). During the design period, the new Cowboys Stadium was awarded the 2011 Super Bowl. This significantly increased the importance of meeting the desired target dates. TxDOT, with help from the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), established incentives for proposed milestones. The contractor’s incentive could be as much as $960,000 for milestone 1 (May 2009) and $1.2 million for milestone 2 (August 2010). The design team, with the help of TxDOT’s expedited reviews, completed the PS&Es on schedule, and the project let on Aug. 8, 2007. It was awarded to W.W. Webber LLC at a cost of $143.9 million (6.54% under budget). Webber, utilizing as many as 250 workers at a time, along with a convoy of construction equipment, completed each milestone on time and received the maximum incentives. Show must go on Traffic control was a major consideration during the 42-month construction project. During this timeframe, several traffic-flow issues had to be addressed, including:
      • 120,000 vehicles per day on I-30;
      • 7 million attending Texas Rangers games;
      • American League playoffs and World Series games;
      • 985,000 attending Dallas Cowboys games;
      • NBA All-Star Game and numerous other athletic and entertainment events at Cowboys Stadium; and
      • 10 million attending Six Flags.
      • The contractor worked effectively with TxDOT and the city of Arlington in accommodating special-event traffic for the numerous games, concerts and other events that occurred during construction. Both the TxDOT field personnel and the contractor consistently came up with ways to expedite the construction without adversely impacting daily traffic and special events. The stats To complete a project of this size, cooperation and accountability between TxDOT, the city of Arlington, the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, TTI, the contractors and the design team were essential. From concepts through construction, everyone contributed their time and talents to deliver a successful final product. Dr. Robert Cluck, mayor of Arlington, stated, “This project represents years of commitment, collaboration and hard work, along with progress through partnerships that build a stronger city, county and region.” The improvements included the total redesign of 3 miles of freeway, four major interchanges, HOV/managed lanes, Texas Turnarounds, two bridge replacements and two new bridges. The following illustrates the scope of this project:
        • 500,000 sq yd of concrete pavement;
        • 400,000 sq ft of retaining wall;
        • 19,000 linear feet of prestressed concrete beams;
        • 50,000 linear feet of drainage pipe and box culverts; and
        • 1.6 million cu yd of excavation.
        • Pictures tell the story The wall murals, envisioned by Townscape Inc., designed by Kaser Design and detailed by SRA, are a key element in “Branding Arlington at 60 mph.” The eight distinctive murals, assembled from reinforced earth panels, were conceived as relief sculptures, each pointing to an important facet of Arlington’s 130-year history and development. The wall manufacturer, Reinforced Earth Inc., developed innovative techniques in casting the custom panels. The 40-ft-wide x 30-ft-high murals resemble 1930s art deco and were designed to be viewed and appreciated at highway speeds. Subjects for the murals included Native Americans, pioneers, manufacturing, education, entertainment and sports. Cluck, after seeing the murals, stated, “They tell the history of the area and of a great city.” A super celebration On Nov. 4, 2010, three months prior to Cowboys Stadium’s hosting of the Super Bowl, business and political leaders gathered to celebrate completion of the makeover of I-30 in Arlington. With five lanes of traffic in each direction and improved interchanges, the 120,000 vehicles each day now experience a safer and more pleasant driving experience through the 3-mile corridor. The bridge enhancements, pedestrian amenities, landscaping and wall murals provide a sense of arrival to Arlington. These improvements also knit together all of the venues along the corridor. They strengthen the perception of the entertainment district as a “place” rather than a collection of individual attractions. In essence, the infrastructure is now “part of the show.” Mayor Cluck stated, “This positions the city, the county, the business community and all other entities for success in the future.”

About The Author: Stone is a senior engineer with Schrickel, Rollins and Associates Inc., Arlington, Texas.

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