Another curve awaits Interstate 35 travelers through Waco beginning Tuesday night, as northbound lanes between Fourth and 18th streets will shift to the opposite, southbound side of the highway for about a month.

The change will allow work crews to begin installing box culverts to direct the flow of Waco Creek beneath the interstate.

The meandering waterway that runs through Baylor University campus is at the heart of a $341 million project scheduled to last four to five years. TxDOT crews are widening the highway from four to six lanes and altering exits, on-ramps and bridges between North Loop 340 in Bellmead to South 12th Street.

Beginning around 7 p.m. northbound and southbound traffic between Fourth and 18th streets each will be limited to two lanes, with concrete barriers between the two directions. All exits currently open will remain open during the switchover and within the new configuration, “which is expected to be in place for about two months, weather permitting and barring any unforeseen problems,” said Ken Roberts, spokesman for the Waco District of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Once culverts are installed under the existing northbound lanes, Roberts said, all traffic will be diverted to the northbound side of the interstate between Fourth and 18th streets. Crews will spend nearly a year completing work on the west side of the highway, removing and rebuilding the southbound lanes.

“Again,” said Roberts, “this timetable depends on the weather.”

At Fuego Tortilla Grill near Interstate 35 and Speight Avenue, general manager Dylan Marshall said Monday he was unaware of the timing of the switchover.

“I was aware the (culvert project) was happening, but I didn’t know it was tomorrow,” Fuego general manager Dylan Marshall said Monday.

Marshall said sales this year are running ahead of those last year, so he’s not ready to criticize ongoing construction or the inconvenience customers face.

Not knowing how sales will perform long-term is disconcerting, he said.

“The situation in general just stinks,” he said with a chuckle.

The stretch of Interstate 35 in the project area carries 140,000 vehicles daily and hugs property populated by retailers and dining establishments such as Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in Lacy Lakeview. General manager Autumn Osborne said she’s heard no “verbal complaints” from diners about driving conditions outside the down-home eatery with the rocking chairs on the front porch.

“But it definitely has impacted our business,” said Osborne.

Motorists entering the Cracker Barrel parking lot use a makeshift driveway TxDOT crews created to keep the eatery from finding itself cut off completely from its customer flow. Osborne laughed a little when mentioning a tiny blue sign that marks the spot amid the mountain of material and heavy machinery.

“We’re working with the home office to get us a temporary sign on the interstate,” said Osborne by phone Monday evening.

Roberts called the widening “messy but necessary,” and said the department continues to work closely with businesses and property owners, meeting face-to-face if necessary to provide updates.

Roberts said crews work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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