I-35 expansion

Limited state funding may force the planned expansion of Interstate 35 through Waco to be split into phases.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file

The outlook for bidding the entire Interstate 35 widening project through Waco in a single project has become more uncertain as state leaders prepare to make a recommendation on the project next week.

The Texas Transportation Commission will issue a proposal Feb. 23 for how it will use its discretionary money for projects across Texas, including the widening of Interstate 35 through Waco.

Metropolitan Planning Organization director Chris Evilia said Thursday that Waco-area leaders are continuing to push for the full $433 million to rebuild the interstate between Robinson and Bellmead.

But Evilia told the MPO’s technical committee Thursday that revenue forecasts have dimmed for the new highway funding streams created by voter-approved propositions. One of the initiatives, Proposition 1, is funded by oil and gas revenue. The other, Proposition 7, is funded by state sales tax.

Evilia said Proposition 7 was expected to yield $2 billion in the next biennium, but if sales tax trends hold, the fund may only get $500 million.

With less revenue, the Texas Transportation Commission may have little choice but to cut the Waco I-35 project into two or three phases, he said.

The Texas Department of Transportation has looked at a two-phase project, starting with 12th Street to North Loop 340, followed by 12th Street to South Loop 340. Such a project would cost a total of $492 million.

A three-phase project could cost $520 million and result in a construction project lasting from 2019 to 2027.

“The (MPO) policy board is not too enthusiastic about that three-phase plan, and it’s not thrilled with two phases either,” Evilia said.

But, that may be the best possible option.

“If you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money,” he said.

The MPO policy board, which sets priorities for state transportation funding in the Waco area, meets at noon Tuesday at the South Waco Community Center, 2815 Speight Ave.

Evilia said there’s also a danger of missing the opportunity for funding altogether.

“The thing that concerns me is, if we do wait on that, have we missed our opportunity to see that funding?” he said. “Then we have to go through the same battle to get it funded. The commission is sensitive to our situation and wants to help, but their ability to help may be less than they’d like it to be.”

The competition for state discretionary funding will be fierce, said Michael Bolin, director of transportation planning and development for the TxDOT Waco district.

“Every time I’ve seen draft numbers they’ve gone down,” Bolin said. “For this current distribution in March, they’re trying to satisfy a lot of needs through the state.”

In addition to the Texas Transportation Commission’s discretionary money, the MPO is expecting an allotment from TxDOT averaging $20 million a year in the next decade for local projects.

The MPO has signaled that it would contribute some of that money to Interstate 35, but it is committed to also funding a $35 million interchange at Speegleville Road and Highway 84, starting in late 2018.

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