Construction to help improve safety at Interstate 35 near the University Drive exit in northern Denton is getting one step closer.

Starting Sunday at 10 p.m., the ramp to enter I-35 at Oak Street will be closed permanently while Texas Department of Transportation contractors start construction to address safety concerns at one of Denton’s busiest highway exits. Message boards and signs are now in place warning drivers heading north of the oncoming traffic impacts for the $1.8 million improvement project.

“Multiple lanes will remain open at the U.S. 380 intersection to accommodate expected traffic,” said Tony Hartzel, a TxDOT spokesperson, who added that drivers are encouraged to seek alternate routes around the construction.

“TxDOT understands the potential for those impacts, and has provided several milestone financial incentives to encourage the contractor to complete the work as quickly as possible,” Hartzel said.

The construction is meant to provide temporary relief to drivers before a 10-year plan to improve I-35 begins in mid-2022 at the earliest. Last October, Denton City Council members said they were disappointed no relief was coming for the crash-prone area any sooner than 2022, if not 2023.

A total of 201 crashes occurred in 2020 in about a one-mile stretch from the Interstate 35E and 35W merger up to just north of the U.S. Highway 380 (University Drive) exit, according to a query in TxDOT’s Crash Records Information System database. There have been 149 such crashes in 2021 so far.

City staff and TxDOT representatives met in November following more concern from residents about that stretch of highway. A consultant told some council members in October that the large-scale project picked up more dollars because it’s likely the worst section of I-35 in North Texas left to resolve.

On northbound I-35, the entrance ramp from Oak Street will be converted into an exit, and the current exit ramp at U.S. 380 will become an entrance ramp. The new exit will give motorists more space on the frontage road.

The left lane on northbound I-35 from Scripture Street to U.S. 380 will also be closed to give crews room to work.

“That work will include adding pavement and widening width of existing lanes,” Hartzel said. “That will ultimately provide more room for traffic merging between the new exit ramp and the new entrance ramp. Crews will need that room within the lane closure to safely tie new pavement into existing pavement.”

The ultimate plan for I-35 is to create braided ramps — ramps that cross over each other.

Weather permitting, the construction to switch the exit and entrance ramps is expected to conclude in early 2022.

During construction, TxDOT advises motorists to enter I-35 at University Drive instead while the Oak Street entrance is reversed.

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.

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