Something big happened this weekend. If you are one of the thousands who regularly drive I-35 E, then like me, you are thrilled. We’ve waited a long time, more impatiently than not. The Lewisville Lake Bridge is open!
I’ve been impressed with how orderly the bridge-building process has unfolded. It’s gone faster and with less disruption than I imagined when it first got underway almost three years ago. We still see so many orange cones around Denton that you may not fully appreciate the bridge to the degree you should.
I got to represent the Denton Chamber of Commerce at the Lewisville Lake Bridge opening ceremony this past Wednesday. It was a cool experience to be one of the first non-construction-type vehicles to drive on the bright, unmarred surface. A big tent set up in the middle of the bridge offered shade for the ceremony and a beautiful view of the lake on both sides. Knowing few will have the opportunity to stand on the bridge as we did, looking down on the current congestion, I welcomed seeing first-hand the bird’s eye view of just why the bridge expansion is so important.
Denton County Judge Mary Horn officiated the ceremony attended by all manner of state and city officials. Sharing the project’s long history that is finally reality, she noted that the Lewisville Lake Bridge has been the single-most problematic bottle-neck in all of North Texas, perhaps even on the entire I-35 corridor. I believe it. But thanks to many tenacious people over many years, it’s not the case anymore.
When construction is between you and where you want to go, don’t you find the traffic mess an obstacle you’d simply rather avoid? You’re not alone. I’m in the business of tourism and travel, worth more than $275 million in visitor spending to our city. Statistics show, and we can all cite scores of examples, that traffic congestion hinders tourism to destinations stuck in the middle of it. It’s just logical, isn’t it?
In his remarks during the ceremony, Lewisville Mayor Pro-Tem T.J. Gilmore said, "This bridge unites our communities, unites our county – one Denton County and not a north and south divided by this lake." There have been times when Lewisville Lake might as well be the Atlantic Ocean for how would-be visitors have hem-hawed about trekking to Denton for fun. “It’s too hard to get there,” is one we hear. “It takes too long and there’s too much traffic. It’s not worth it,” is another. Opening up that bottle-neck is going to have an immediate, positive impact on our city in many ways, tourism included.
Next weekend is the Denton Blues Fest. How many new blues-lovers will visit our event for the first time simply because it will be easier to get here? How many day-trippers from across the region will visit our attractions, restaurants and businesses more regularly? When our new convention center opens late next year, how many more meeting planners will give Denton consideration as a destination now that the way is wider, faster and beautiful? No doubt, the answer is many.
Be assured, there are those among us who would rather the new bridge not exist, I-35 not be expanded, and Denton be kept a secret. Former Denton County Judge Jeff Moseley referred to this school of thought when he quoted an old saying, “If you don't build it, they won't come.” He pointed out that census records have demonstrated all over the globe that this is nothing but an urban myth. People come anyway, and they are coming to North Texas in droves. How tragic would it be to ignore vital infrastructural improvements to handle population growth we cannot stop? Talk about a decline in quality of life! We would despise our circumstances and bemoan the fact long into the future.
Fortunately, leaders across Denton County had vision years ago and have kept it alive, moving forward through changing players and politics. Because here we are, on the verge of completion, on the cusp of a freeway sans orange cones. The end is in sight!
In closing, I ask you to consider one more quote from last Wednesday’s ceremonial speakers. Mayor of Highland Village Charlotte Wilcox stated perfectly and succinctly the drama of construction such as that Dentonites know well. In fact, what she said is applicable to many situations we are facing locally and beyond. "Change is hard at the beginning, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end."