Interstate widening

The 12th Street overpass will be demolished and replaced with an underpass as part of the first phase of Interstate 35 reconstruction. That phase will run from 12th Street to North Loop 340 and will cost $340 million.

The project to rebuild and widen the northern section of Interstate 35 through Waco is $40 million over budget, and state officials are asking the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization to help bridge the gap with another $8 million of its state allowance for local projects.

The MPO board, made up of local government leaders, had already agreed to contribute $80 million toward the first phase of I-35, from 12th Street to North Loop 340, which was set for construction in 2019 at an estimated cost of $300 million.

The board on Thursday was posted to vote on giving up another $60 million to prime the pump for the second phase of I-35 work south of 12th Street, but it tabled that vote upon learning that the bids for the first phase had come in at $340 million.

Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver, who sits on the policy board, said members needed more time to consider the Texas Department of Transportation’s new $8 million request for the first phase. The MPO board meets next on Jan. 17.

“I think that’s difficult to ask of the entire MPO when we stretched to make it to $80 million on a project,” Deaver said. “We feel like is an international freight corridor that happens to run through our city. When it starts to impact our other regional projects it’s a challenge.”

Deaver said adding $8 million for the first phase as well as $60 million for the second phase could keep some other local transportation priorities from happening.

Every agency is dealing with limited resources, including TxDOT, Deaver said. However, he argued that I-35 is not a local road but a transportation corridor essential for economic development for the whole state and nation.

“I think we just need more discussion before we’re ready to vote on that,” Deaver said.

Construction is set to begin in the spring to rebuild I-35 from South 12th Street to North Loop 340/Meyers Lane, expanding it to eight lanes, with new bridges, ramps and frontage roads. The second phase, from 12th Street to South Loop 340 in Robinson, is budgeted at $240 million but remains unfunded.

Local leaders are hoping to get the second phase of I-35 work funded in time to run in tandem with the first phase to avoid the safety and local economic risks of prolonging the project.

Given the higher-than-expected costs for the project’s northern section, new estimates may be needed for the southern section, said MPO director Chris Evilia.

“The bottom line is there’s an additional amount there that has to come from some source,” Evilia said.

More than 100 people recently attended an TxDOT open house at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum to learn about coming changes regarding I-35. The state agency is holding public meetings to share details to the projects to keep residents informed of the upcoming work.

The public can keep up with the status of the project by visiting My35.org.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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