Businesses and residents in the China Spring area are bracing for more than two years of traffic inconveniences as the project to expand Farm-to-Market Road 1637 begins Monday.
But the payoff in summer 2018 will be a four-lane divided highway that should ease congestion for commuters in the suburban area on the northwest side of Waco, highway officials said.
Widening F.M. 1637, also known as China Spring Road, has been on the books for more than 20 years, but escalating costs and dwindling state road funds delayed it year after year. Last year, the Texas Department of Transportation awarded a $27.8 million bid to Knife River Construction to build the road from Steinbeck Bend Road to just past Wortham Bend Road.
Add in the cost of design, right of way and utility relocations that were largely funded by the city of Waco, and the total cost of the project tops $53 million.
Knife River will begin on the Steinbeck Bend end of the four-mile road segment and will strive to keep two-way traffic flowing when people are using the road most, said Kenneth Roberts, spokesman for the TxDOT Waco district office.
He said lane closures on the two-lane highway will mostly be at night, though an occasional day closure is possible between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., outside of peak commute times.
“We’re trying to minimize the impact on the public as much as possible,” Roberts said.
He said normal work hours for the road will be from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
TxDOT will work with business owners to ensure that they have public access from the road during construction, Roberts said.
Among those businesses is B&S Farm and Ranch Center at 9030 China Spring Road. Co-owner Danny Bostick said he expects construction will still cut down on his business.
“It’s going to affect us dearly with our customers trying to get in and out,” Bostick said.
But the “bumper-to-bumper” commuter traffic now on the road is unsafe and deters potential customers, he said.
“Right now, the traffic is so bad, we’re appreciative of it,” Bostick said of the road project. “I just wish it had been five years ago. . . . Once it’s done, it will be wonderful.”
Christina McKee, a resident and assistant manager at the Riviera Apartments on 9900 China Spring Road, said residents are “very aware” of the planned roadwork. McKee said she will have to leave earlier in the morning to drop off her children at China Spring schools, but she is already used to traffic.
“I don’t know how much worse it can get than it already is,” she said.
Meanwhile, TxDOT is expecting to award a contract next year for the second phase of widening F.M. 1637. Officials have identified funding for about $15 million to widen a two-mile segment of the road from Wortham Bend to just past F.M. 185. In addition, the city of Waco has committed to spend $12.9 million this year to replace water and sewer lines along the route.