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I-35 construction to continue as demand grows along 6-state road

Oct. 11, 2000

NAFTA cited by officials as 1 reason for overload



Tired of construction on Interstate 35 between Dallas and Austin? Get used to it.

The Texas Department of Transportation has started planning expansion of traffic lanes through Bell, Falls, McLennan and Hill counties, and the project will take at least 10 to 12 years to complete.

State and federal experts expect I-35 traffic in Waco to double within the next 20 years, partly due to increasing trade with Mexico.

At a public meeting held this summer in Waco, John Obr, I-35 project director, said the total estimated cost of this project would be $1 billion. Construction costs are estimated to be between $800 million and $900 million. The cost for obtaining right-of-way has been set at $100 million.

Clark Gauer, I-35 project manager for Bell and McLennan counties, said these funds come from the Texas Transportation Commission, with 90 percent of the funds coming from federal funds and 10 percent from state funds.

'Since this is a high-priority project, a significant amount has all ready been committed,' he said.

The Federal Highway Administration and the Departments of Transportation in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota have looked at the increase of traffic between Laredo and Duluth, Minn., since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Act in 1994. The executive summary of their findings suggests that any state within the I-35 corridor may make improvements as conditions warrant and as funds are available.

The Texas Highway Department has begun planning how to handle increased traffic. Public meetings were held this summer in both Bell and Hill counties. The department discussed with citizens the kinds of improvements and expansions it is seeking to make.

Information given to citizens shows that traffic flow through Waco has grown from 13,000 vehicles in 1950 to 86,600 this year. Current truck traffic is 25 to 30 percent of the total. Increase in truck traffic since NAFTA is 10 to 12 percent. The average daily traffic is projected to increase by 50 to 100 percent over the next 20 years.

The I-35 Corridor Waco District is responsible for maintenance and improvements to the 94 miles of I-35 running through Bell, Falls, McLennan and Hill counties and must consider several issues before construction begins.

An Environmental Impact Study is required before final plans can be made for construction, said Ken Roberts, public information officer for the Waco district office of the state highway department.

The department must investigate the type of lands that the project is going through -- wetlands, for example, or cemeteries or areas with protected animal species. Once this study is completed, plans can proceed to develop the final design for the project. The department expects to present the final design to the public in the last half of 2001. After that, the construction bidding process begins.

Widening near Baylor may be several years down the road. The construction through Waco, from Loop 340 on the south to Farm-to-Market 308 on the north, would not begin until some time after 2005. This portion of the construction would take about five to six years to complete.

The state highway department is completing projects in Hill County that began in 1998 and 1999. The next section scheduled for improvement is from the Craven Avenue exit to the U.S. Highway 77 exit in northern McLennan County. Construction should begin next year.

By 2003, additional improvements will be made from state Highway 81 to Farm-to-Market 286 and also from FM 286 to the I-35 E/W split. Both of these sections are in Hill County.

Bell County improvements could begin as early as 2002 if preparation of west Loop 363 needs to be made for construction traffic while I-35 through Temple is completed. Falls County widening could begin between 2005 and 2006 from the Bell County line to the McLennan County line. Widening of I-35 in McLennan County may begin as soon as 2003 with construction from Hewitt to Loop 340.

At a summer meeting, several people addressed the department with concerns. Their main concern was whether or not the owners of property adjacent to I-35 would be treated fairly when the state buys rights of way. Obr said it would be incumbent on the Texas Department of Transportation to do a good appraisal job.

One person addressed the need for the project to be completed. Her concern was that traffic is congested most of the time, and a remedy needs to be made as soon as possible.

Roberts said this project will not be completed quickly.

'Be patient with us, let us get the job done and drive defensively,' he said.

It is expected that this project will take from 10 to 12 years to complete, so if you graduate in May 2001, you will likely deal with construction on I-35 when you return for your 10-year reunion in 2011.

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