Interstate 35

Northbound traffic slows as it approaches the work zone for the I-35 widening project last month. Local officials have praised the pace of work so far.

Only four months into the $341 million widening of Interstate 35 through Waco, the Texas Department of Transportation already is hinting at tweaks that may bring the project to a close earlier than expected.

Houston-based Webber LLC could secure more than $15 million in staggered deadline bonuses on the 6.7-mile project that includes major upgrades between North Loop 340 in Bellmead and South 12th Street — near the restaurant cluster at Fifth and Sixth streets and exits to downtown and riverfront attractions.

“That’s just over 4% of the total contract and the highest amount of bonus dollars we’ve ever put on a contract, including large ones in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio,” TxDOT Waco District engineer Stanley Swiatek said.

Swiatek attended Thursday’s meeting of the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization’s policy board. He told members, including Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver and Waco City Council members John Kinnaird, Dillon Meek and Jim Holmes, that Webber is making impressive progress. In addition, he said during an interview, he plans talks with Webber about “traffic control switches” down the road that could save another three to four months.

“In the best case scenario, final completion could move from early spring 2023 to possibly December 2022,” Swiatek said during the interview.

Mayor Deaver praised TxDOT and Webber, saying the city appreciates efforts to keep the massive undertaking moving along as efficiently as possible.

Swiatek said TxDOT negotiated a package of incentives and disincentives that includes “no excuse” milestones that trigger either bonus payments or what amount to payment reductions. Missing the substantial completion deadline in late 2024, for example, could cost Webber $50,000 a day until the situation is resolved, according to a fact sheet Swiatek shared with the MPO board.

Missing goals to complete work on southbound main lanes would cost $75,000 a day, while the same offense on the northbound side would cost $60,000 a day, Swiatek said.

If Webber closes a lane or ramp without first having notified TxDOT, the penalty is $2,000 an hour in the dark, $20,000 an hour during daylight.

“If this has to be done, we want it done at night,” Swiatek said.

He decided to discuss the incentive-disincentive program in detail because he is often asked about it by the public, he said.

“This project is a different animal. The community wanted it completed on time, hopefully early,” Swiatek said. “We wanted this walk-through to let the community know TxDOT’s commitment to getting it done quickly.

“We have found that other projects along Interstate 35 have been going 25 percent beyond the projected completion date. We structured this contract to keep that down. If they finish 45 days ahead of time, they will see a $5 million bonus, and that’s just part of the incentive package. We hope they get every incentive dollar possible.”

The scope of work includes construction of 22 bridges, the removal of three existing concrete main lanes in both directions, their replacement with four lanes of reinforced concrete pavement in both directions, and reconstruction of the frontage roads, according to Webber’s website.

“In addition, the project includes the installation of more than 132,000 linear feet of reinforced concrete box culverts and pipe, as well as electrical, concrete flatwork, landscaping, irrigation and pavement markings,” the site states.

The project originally was scheduled to last 46 months.

Also Thursday, the MPO policy board endorsed pursuing funding for nine projects in Waco, Lorena, Robinson and Valley Mills under the Safe Routes to School Program. These include in Waco reinforced concrete sidewalks of varying lengths at Alta Vista Elementary School, Cesar Chavez Middle School, Indian Spring Middle School, J.H. Hines Elementary School, Provident Heights Elementary School and South Waco Elementary School. The work would carry a combined cost of $4.5 million.

Next month, the MPO board again will discuss the issue of allocating $8 million in local funds to addressing Waco Creek flooding issues along the interstate.

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