Forrest Fischer’s truck transitions from paved blacktop to graded white gravel to smoothed dirt as he tours the massive construction site where Toll 49 is taking shape.
“It’s come a long way,” he said of the project. “It’s amazing to think about the work that has gone into getting it this far and that we’re getting close to the end.”
The project is Fischer’s first “green build,” which means it’s his first time to construct a highway on undeveloped land. He spent much of his career on the West Coast improving major roads in growing areas.
The 22-month, $70 million project, set to open in the spring, includes 10 miles of two lane road plus another two to three miles of entrance and exit ramps, Fischer said. Segment 3B includes 10 bridges spanning creeks and swamps and highways, including Texas Highways 64 and 110.
A fleet of up to 40 heavy excavators moved more than 2.2 million yards of earth to create paths through hills and bring valleys up to grade, Fischer said.
Fischer said dump-trucks haul 10 yards of dirt each trip.
Most of the remaining heavy equipment is concentrating on cosmetic details and drainage.
Nine of the 10 overpasses have been set. The biggest bridge spans 1,300 feet across a bottom area along Prairie Creek. Other bridges range from 20 feet to several hundred feet in length.
If the grade isn’t within the specification, the road might not meet standards or material costs could run over budget, he said.
As the grader continues his deliberate grind along the unpaved stretch, other dirt-moving equipment shapes the landscape along the roadside.
Lindale City Manager Owen Scott said city officials, businesses and residents are ready for the completed toll road to be open. He said the route will relieve traffic heading north and south and spur industrial, commercial and residential growth near Lindale and along the road.
The city opened an industrial complex about a quarter-mile east of the I-20/Toll 49 connection and Scott believes it will help attract employers. The city is also preparing a business park north of the connection, he said.
“It will be a positive,” he said.
Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin III, who led efforts on the project as president of the North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority, said he expects the connection to I-20 to usher additional opportunities for expansion of Toll 49 and other projects within larger regional transportation plan.
Expansion plans for Toll 49 include adding additional lanes for traffic and extending the I-20 connection to U.S. Highway 69 north of Lindale on the project’s west side and east from Highway 110 near Whitehouse to I-20.
In the early hours of Monday and Tuesday, crews will begin setting concrete girders across I-20. Each of 10 girders weighs 50-60 tons and will be suspended around 20 feet in the air, Fischer said.
It’s not a complicated process, he said, compared to the mammoth tasks already behind construction crews and engineers.
Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and Lindale police will conduct a “rolling slow-down” on the east and west bound lanes of the interstate a few miles from the overpass, he said. Traffic will creep along behind the escort while workers using cranes set each girder.
Each girder will take 10-15 minutes to set, he said. Once they are in place, crews will be able to prepare them for surfacing as they did in the previous nine bridges, he said.
“One day there won’t be anything in the air and then a few days later there will be a bridge,” he said.
Segment 3A is expected to be opened to traffic this coming spring. As the land is being shaped before his eyes, Fischer points out the physical features of the future drive – green undulating hills, forestland and above-treetop vantage points.
“It’s going to make for a pretty drive one of these days,” Fischer said.