When contemplating where we’re going in life during the massive and intricate improvement and expansion of Interstate 35 through Waco, it’s best to internalize that line from “The Outer Limits,” the 1960s sci-fi anthology: “You are about to participate in a great adventure.” Indeed. Before all is dusted and done, you’ll see all streams of traffic temporarily occupy one snarling side of the interstate. You’ll see lanes both ways increase from three to four. You’ll see the familiar 11th/12th Street overpass one day become an underpass. You’ll see the Eighth Street pedestrian bridge so popular with Baylor University students hoofing it to Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and Panera Bread disappear overnight, certainly by the time students reassemble in August. You’ll see continuous frontage roads. And you’ll spend part of your time in traffic, possibly backed up, if you don’t find alternate routes and stay updated via daily email alerts from the Texas Department of Transportation’s Waco District. Yes, indeed.
Granted, there’s irony in the I-35 project now getting underway. For years, Waco boosters pressed hard for improvement of the roaring interstate through our town, even as we all now dread the very shape of things to come. Yet even if you weren’t convinced that we needed four lanes going north and four going south through Waco (and a thousand highway stretches across Texas rank worse in congestion), it’s been obvious for 15 years that our highway pavement was crumbling. And given the rise of restaurant row across from Baylor, you didn’t have to be a highway engineer to know the southbound ramp exiting to the Fourth/Fifth Street intersection to culinary nirvana (and now also nearby Magnolia Market at the Silos) was an invitation to danger, especially if you cleared that rise going 70, only to find traffic backed up at the light. No wonder engineers removed the exit ramp before almost anything else.
Yes, this will be a great adventure. It will inspire conflicting emotions in you. It will prompt you to seek new vistas over the next four to five years. It will test you and your love for fellow motorists. But in the end we can all look forward to not only a safer highway but one poised for the genuine congestion bound our way. Till then, keep it buckled and stay cool.