Local leaders still would like to widen and rebuild Interstate 35 through Waco in a single project but passed a resolution Tuesday saying they would accept a two-phase approach. The first phase would tackle the stretch between South 12th Street and North Loop 340 in Bellmead at a cost of $300 million.
The Texas Transportation Commission had suggested the widening between Robinson and Bellmead take place in two steps, saying it could offer no guarantee that the $433 million cost of the entire project, if done at one time, would be available.
The policy board of the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization, which includes some members of the Waco City Council and the McLennan County Commissioners Court, voted unanimously to express its gratitude for any money the transportation commission commits to the Waco project.
Members made it clear they would prefer a single-phase project but would accept a two-phase approach. They will forward the resolution to the Texas Transportation Commission, which will announce Thursday how it will allocate discretionary money on projects across Texas, possibly including the widening of Interstate 35 locally.
Metropolitan Planning Organization director Chris Evilia said no formal presentation to the transportation commission is planned.
"We asked for their help, and this is what they said they could do for us," Evilia said, commenting on why there is no need for a local contingent to travel to Austin for an appearance before the commission. "We are supporting what they already have communicated to us."
The Metropolitan Planning Organization also is pursuing $35 million to create an interchange at U.S. Highway 84 and Speegleville Road.
"The interchange would take Highway 84 traffic up and over the roads, and frontage would be extended to McGregor Airport," Evilia said.
The MPO expects to receive $200 million from the Texas Transportation Commission over the next 10 years, and it will earmark $80 million to the first phase of widening I-35, Evilia said.
"As we've said, we would love to do the whole thing at once, but that does not appear to be an option. The resources are not there at this time," he said. "This is an opportunity for us to get the most important work moving forward. Work will start in 2019 and last about four years. We're talking about widening the interstate one lane in each direction, but the most important aspect is reconstruction."
Highlights of the expansion will include rebuilding the bridges of the main lanes over the Brazos River and reversing the South 12th Street interchange "so that instead of 12th going up and over the interstate, the interstate goes over," Evilia said.
Residents may view Interstate 35 through Waco as heavily traveled, but it doesn't come close to other roads in Texas, said Bobby Littlefield, district engineer the Texas Department of Transportation in Waco.
"But our problem is that it is not one of the 100 most congested stretches in the state when compared to larger communities," Littlefield said.
Fortunately, the Texas Transportation Commission has set aside $1 billion for non-congestion projects, he said.
Local officials have made widening of I-35 through Waco a priority for years, and it appeared a pair of tax measures voters recently approved would help pay for the project.
One of the initiatives, Proposition 1, is funded by oil and gas revenue. The other, Proposition 7, is funded by state sales tax.
Evilia has 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.