I-35 funding

The $300 million first phase of the project to rebuild Interstate 35 would focus from 12th Street to North Loop 340.

The project to rebuild and widen Interstate 35 from 12th Street to North Loop 340 is set to begin in 2019 after the Texas Transportation Commission this week voted to contribute $115 million in discretionary funds.

The long-awaited $300 million project will rebuild and expand the main lanes from six to eight lanes, rebuild frontage roads, replace ramps, and replace highway and river bridges. Local transportation officials will seek further funding in the next few years to rebuild the freeway from 12th Street south to South Loop 340.

“This is important not just for Waco but for the state and nation to get this part of I-35 done,” Mayor Kyle Deaver said. “From an economic development standpoint, knowing that you have reliable transportation through Waco is critical for industry.”

The remainder of funding for the $300 million northern phase will come from the budgets of local transportation agencies.

The Texas Department of Transportation’s Waco district office will dedicate $105 million of its state allocation over several years.

The Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization will dedicate four years of its state funding to the project starting in 2019, for a total of $80 million. The MPO board, which is composed largely of local municipal officials, is scheduled to officially sign off on funding the project April 20, along with an amendment to the local Transportation Improvement Program.

MPO director Chris Evilia said the MPO’s commitment will limit new construction projects in the Greater Waco area for a few years. But he is confident the MPO will have enough left over from the coming year’s allotment to fund another high-priority project: a $35 million interchange at Speegleville Road and Highway 84. Work is scheduled to start on that project in late 2018.

2nd I-35 phase

The MPO won’t likely have additional discretionary money until 2023, but MPO officials hope to line up funding for the second phase of I-35 work before then. That project is expected to cost $192 million, but Evilia said he will likely ask TxDOT officials to reassess the road section to see if some existing pavement and ramps could be preserved to save money.

In the meantime, he said the MPO and local TxDOT office will consider getting other midterm projects ready to go. Those include $20 million to $25 million in improvements to Hewitt Drive and about $20 million of frontage road and ramp work between Central Texas Marketplace and Richland Mall on Loop 340.

Evilia said it will be up to the MPO board to decide how such projects stack up against the southern phase of I-35 as funding priorities.

Mayor Deaver, who heads the MPO board, agreed that discussion is needed. But he said it is important to complete the southern I-35 stretch.

“I don’t want Interstate 35 construction to drag out any longer than it has to,” he said.

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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