Each and every work day more than 180,000 motorists endure the convergence of highways north of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Just a few years ago, the limited number of lanes and criss-crossing interchanges resulted in constant traffic congestion, which earned the stretch an unflattering nickname – The Funnel.

Courtesy of the Texas Department of Transportation
Eastbound SH 114 at Texan Trail, north of DFW Airport.
Courtesy of the Texas Department of Transportation
SH 121/International Parkway north of DFW Airport, including northbound International Parkway exiting DFW Airport (background) and the southbound SH 121 ramp to eastbound SH 114 (foreground).

That sobriquet is part of the past with the introduction of the DFW Connector, which held its ribbon cutting late last month. The $1.1 billion project has transformed an 8.4-mile stretch of outdated and overwhelmed roadways to a state of the art traffic conduit for one of the fastest-growing urban areas in the country.

“We have to move people and we move a great amount,” said US Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson ,who championed the project. “The growing population in this area demands good transportation.”

The DFW Connector combines state highways 114 and 121, which meet on the north end of DFW International Airport.  By 2030, the volume of traffic is expected to reach 359,000 motorists daily.

At its widest point, the roadway is now 24 lanes wide with new direct connect ramps and continuous frontage roads on each side. The project involved building 39 bridges and erecting more than 100 retaining walls.  More than 3.5 million cubic yards of material was excavated as part of the construction.

A key portion of the funds – $261 million – was obtained through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act making the largest single use of the transportation stimulus funding. The Texas Department of Transportation provided $696 million of the project’s funding and $177 million more was financed through bonds.  The state slimmed down costs by using strategies not exactly common for jobs this size.

“By using design/build we were able to save more than $400 million,” said TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson.

Even more impressive than the cost savings is the fact the DFW Connector was finished in just more than three-and-a-half years, nine months ahead of the original competition date.

The project was build through a public-private partnership between TxDOT and NorthGate Constructors – joint venture led by Kiewit Texas Construction with Zachry Construction Corp. To win the contract, NorthGate embraced technology and sustainability as ways to reduce costs.

“From out of the gate we were looking for anything that would improve the speed of delivery without sacrificing safety or efficiency,” said NorthGate deputy project director Rob Anderson. “We saw an opportunity here and asked what thing we could do to improve our competitive edge.”

NorthGate utilized onsite concrete and metal recycling which was not insignificant given the amounts of both needed for the job. Almost 570,000 cubic yards of concrete were required for the project and more than 50 million pounds of steel was used for the concrete paving.

The project also utilized a series of innovative technological strategies that included:  an integrated material tracking system which streamlined the transportation of materials, intelligent compaction mechanisms that measured quality of earthwork preparation and telematics that employed GPS systems to track all the equipment on the job and provide detailed information.

“This project has been a great teacher,” said former Texas Transportation Commissioner William Meadows. “We learned how to use these tools with creative thinking to develop these tools.”