DALLAS - Development of a $1.5 billion DFW Connector project is expected to begin this year to funnel traffic to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport within five years.

A decision by the Texas Transportation Commission to award the design-build contract to a team known as NorthGate Constructors brings the value of road projects approved for the Dallas-Fort Worth area this year to more than $5 billion.

The Connector is a 14.4-mile project designed to smooth the traffic flow from several congested highways that intersect at the north entrance to DFW airport, which ranks as the nation's third busiest.

Pre-construction will begin this summer with construction underway by next year. The design-build concept is expected to get the project completed in five years, less than half the time usually needed for comparable work, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. The interchange of Interstates 30 and 35 in downtown Fort Worth took more than 10 years to complete.

"It is a significant accomplishment for the region and the state to begin implementation of a project of this magnitude," said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. "The region needs mobility and air quality improvements now."

In addition to $667 million in state funding, the project will receive $250 million in federal stimulus funds.

The Texas Transportation Commission oversees TxDOT and will choose a financing strategy that will involve billions of dollars in bonds as the projects are further along.

The Connector is the second major project in the region accelerated by stimulus funding from the $787 billion federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The transportation commission had earlier awarded the $4 billion redevelopment of Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway in Dallas to a consortium known as LBJ Development Partners, including Spanish developer Cintra. Cintra, which won its first concession in the North Texas area after losing the $3.5 billion State Highway 121 to the North Texas Tollway Authority two years ago, will build managed lanes on LBJ.

The LBJ Freeway, officially Interstate 635, is one of several major highways that feed traffic toward the airport. SH 121, whose toll extension by the NTTA is in progress, is another feeder into DFW.

Like the DFW Connector, the redevelopment of LBJ Freeway with managed toll lanes, is expected to take five years under a similar design-build strategy.

"Partnering with the private sector allows us to stretch $445 million taxpayer dollars to deliver an asset worth approximately $4 billion to the region," said TTC chairwoman Deirdre Delisi earlier this month. "Innovative project development strategies, like the one used for the New LBJ, stimulate our economy, provide thousands of jobs, and improve regional mobility and air quality."

The DFW Connector could double existing highway capacity and improve mobility on seven highways, six interchanges and 10 bridges. SH 114 will be widened to as many as 14 main lanes with up to four additional toll-managed lanes and up to seven frontage road lanes, according to TxDOT.

The award to NorthGate is conditional until all elements of the contract are negotiated and executed, which is expected by this summer.

All roadways and rights of way will always be state-owned, though the NTTA will manage toll operations for a fee. The tollway will use automated billing that will be adjusted for peak congestion.

As TxDOT pushes forward on the highway projects, rail connections are also in development, with a commuter line coming from Fort Worth to the west and light rail from Dallas to the east. Dallas Area Rapid Transit is using stimulus funds to build its next line through Irving to DFW Airport. Last year, DART officials feared that construction of the project would face delays because of soaring costs.

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