Five years of construction ended three months early in North Dallas Thursday as all lanes of the Interstate 635 LBJ Express project opened to drivers.
An 11 a.m. ceremony at the Webb Chapel Road overpass featured vintage cars and fire trucks ushering drivers through the final below-ground managed toll lane segment for the first time.
The toll lanes are built underneath the regular I-635 lanes because, based on overwhelming public sentiment, the developers decided not to build higher up to prevent noise. They couldn't expand wider, because that would have required more property.
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"It's a concept to better move traffic through this northern corridor within the boundaries of what the highway was in the first place," said LBJ Express Corporate Affairs Director Robert Hinkle. "When we fill the air with emissions and when we're wasting the most money is when cars are just sitting on the highway, so what we're trying to do is keep cars moving."
Instead of construction barricades, LBJ drivers must now navigate new signs to either use or avoid the toll lanes.
There are four or five free general lanes in each direction, at least two free frontage roads, and now three managed toll lanes.
Driver Carlos Rengifo said he has already learned the hard way to avoid the toll lane when he does not want to pay.
"It's a good option but it is not fair to pay because you ended up in the wrong lane because the signals are not clear," he said. "It is very confusing."
Toll prices in the managed lanes vary depending on traffic levels to keep drivers moving at least 50 miles an hour. High tolls will keep some drivers in the slow lane.
"I have real mixed emotions about that," driver Paula Corrigan said. "I just feel like you have to pay for everything any more and this kind of aggravates me, but if it's convenient, who's not going to use it?"
Drivers pay the toll with toll tags. High occupancy vehicle drivers can register for a 50-percent discount with the "Drive On TexPress" smart phone app.
"I would suggest to people that they take their route on a Sunday afternoon, just to test it out," Texas Department of Transportation spokesperson Donna Huerta said.
Drivers will see many more managed toll lanes in North Texas. The 17-mile LBJ segment completed Thursday joins North Tarrant Express and DFW Connector segments already completed. Segments on interstates 30, 35E and 35W, as well as Texas highways 183 and 114 are slated to open by 2018.
Maximum tolls for the completed LBJ Express segments on I-635 and I-35E could be nearly $10 during peak traffic periods.
NBC 5's Jeff Smith contributed to this report.