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Improvements, expansion possible for I-35

Jan. 20, 2010

By Caty Hirst
Staff Writer

Interstate 35 in Waco could see some changes that would affect local businesses and travelers on the interstate.

Though plans are not yet approved or funded, the Texas Department of Transportation has drawn up plans to improve I-35 from South Loop 340 to North Loop 340.

Proposed improvements include making the frontage roads continuous across the Brazos River, improving and rebuilding ramps and bridges, and widening the shoulders and sidewalks along the frontage roads, according to Kirk Krause, the assistant area engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation's Waco office.

The project could also include adding crosswalks under the interstate at Fourth, Fifth and 12th Streets.

Alisa Polanski, I-35 project engineer, said these changes could affect access to businesses and homes.

"We have a preliminary schematic. It shows some of the potential impacts to property owners," Polanski said. "There are some that would be affected. Some would probably be relocated. There are some that might be affected by access, driveways, things like that."

Tracy Maughan, co-owner of Buzzard Billy's, said he is excited about the possible improvement to the interstate but nervous as to how it will affect his business. Current schematics show access to Buzzard Billy's will be cut off by the construction.

"Since they are going to extend the frontage road over the river, the on-ramp to the bridge will cover up the entrance into the restaurant," Maughan said. "Since there is only one entrance into the property, it will be blocking that off and basically close our business."

Maughan said the Texas Department of Transportation is planning to work with him to find ways around hurting his business.

Lori Fogleman, director of media relations for Baylor, said the possible construction is good for the community.

"It is one of the busiest interstates in Texas, and the expansion will provide much improved and safer transportation through our area," Fogleman said. "The expansion will better link Baylor with downtown Waco through Fourth and Fifth Streets. It will provide easier, safer, more accessible travel for cars, bicyclists and pedestrians."

For Baylor, the construction could lead to minor access changes to the Robinson Tower parking garage and loss in green space, but no buildings should be compromised.

"All entities are working together to make sure that everyone's needs are met," Fogleman said.

Maughan said the construction could help his business by making travel safer through Waco and making it convenient to get to his business, as long as the access problem can be solved.

"Making the roadway safer is what their intentions are, which is a good thing," Maughan said. "It will be good to have that road there, but there will have to be some changes made to make it work for Buzzard Billy's.

"As a businessman, I am very leery about what they are going to do to help us get our access to our business," Maughan said. "On the other hand, they are willing talk about it to keep the access to Buzzard Billy's open."

Fogleman said Baylor is especially excited because the construction could connect Baylor to downtown, which would promote Baylor's 2012 Vision.

"I think with the planning that is under way right now, [the construction] should complement what we are doing, as well as downtown Waco," Fogleman said. "It will provide a better front door to Baylor."

Although some disruptions would be inevitable due to construction, Fogleman said Baylor is optimistic about the possible changes.

Krause said three other projects on I-35 in McLennan County have been approved and are funded.

These projects will not affect local business owners and will not be taking place in Waco.

Some of these improvements include widening I-35 to six lanes in select places and changing frontage roads to a one-way traffic configuration.