An open house Tuesday on a proposal to build new frontage roads and bridges on a busy stretch of Loop 340 between Central Texas Marketplace and Richland Mall drew both questions and praise from 31 participants, including business owners and community leaders.
The estimated $23 million project would build continuous frontage roads along Loop 340, with new overpasses over two rail lines. That would free up space for longer entrance and exit ramps that would ease entry into the main lanes and prevent “stacking” of traffic at exits, Texas Department of Transportation officials said.
Also part of the package are new U-turn overpasses on Loop 340 both at Bagby Avenue and Highway 84, allowing motorists to double back without going through a traffic light.
Commercial real estate broker Jon Spelman said it looks like many property owners will get better access, including the Waco Industrial Foundation, which owns land between Beverly and Industrial Drives.
“To me it helps with the circulation of traffic,” Spelman said. “From a commercial real estate point of view it opens the door to new opportunities. It will make land available for sale and probably increase property value. This will open a lot of doors.”
Cary DuPuy, whose family owns the former DuPuy Oxygen building at Loop 340 and Highway 84, said he sees traffic congestion at the Loop 340 exit ramp near the building. He agreed with the need for more distance between the northbound exit and the traffic light on the access road, though he said it will take a while to get used to it.
“It’s a little difficult to imagine what impact it will have,” DuPuy said.
A long stretch of Oxygen Drive parallel to Loop 340 would be closed, which DuPuy said he uses as a shortcut.
But TxDOT engineers said that road will be less useful with the new frontage road, and closing the at-grade railroad crossing on Oxygen Drive will be a safety boon that could make the project eligible for a contribution from Union Pacific.
Waco Councilman Jim Holmes said the reconfiguration of the northbound exit ramp for Highway 84 will make Loop 340 safer. He is also excited about the U-turns at Bagby Avenue, which will help reduce congestion through the intersection of Bagby and Loop 340, he said.
TxDOT spokesman Ken Roberts said he heard some individual concerns about access to property, but overall he thinks access and safety should be much better.
“Folks along this corridor have seen lots of congestion and an increase in collisions,” Roberts said. “They realize this is going to help in the long run.”
TxDOT will continue its public involvement process on the project in the next year, with a a goal of starting right-of-way acquisition next summer. Money for the project has not yet been identified, but TxDOT officials say it’s possible safety funds will become available in the next few years.