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Spring Valley, Axtell highway projects to be cut from 4-year plan; Waco 'mall-to-mall' project survives

Spring Valley, Axtell highway projects to be cut from 4-year plan; Waco 'mall-to-mall' project survives

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Projects on Spring Valley Road and State Highway 31 will likely be casualties of a state mandate to cut $70 million from the Waco area’s four-year Transportation Improvement Plan, officials said Thursday.

The cuts leave $50 million in state funding for the Waco Metropolitan Organization’s countywide transportation priorities over four years, MPO director Chris Evilia told the group’s policy board Thursday.

The money left is enough to cover only two major projects: a Highway 31 overpass at Farm-to-Market Road 939 and the $46.5 million effort to add continuous frontage roads along Loop 340 between Richland Mall and Central Texas Marketplace, Evilia said.

The so-called “mall-to-mall” project on Loop 340 is more urgently needed than ever given Amazon’s plans to build a fulfillment center at 2000 Exchange Parkway near the Bagby Avenue intersection with Loop 340, Waco officials said.

“The mall-to-mall project has taken on even more importance with the city of Waco from a timing perspective,” said Waco City Council Member Jim Holmes, vice chair of the policy board. “We need to get that on as fast a track as possible.”

The Texas Department of Transportation is now expecting to award a contract for the project late next year and complete it within about three years, though incentives to the contractor could shorten that timeline, Waco district TxDOT engineer Stan Swiatek told the MPO board.

The project is important not only for Amazon and its more than 1,000 workers and truck fleets but also for other potential industries that are in discussions about building in the area, Evilia said in an interview.

MPO officials learned in August that they would have to make deep cuts to the $130 million in discretionary Category 2 funding they had expected to get from TxDOT over four years due to state budget challenges.

MPO leaders were already prepared to remove several projects from the four-year plan, including an $8 million widening of Highway 6 near Speegleville and $33 million in safety improvements along the southern portion of Interstate 35 through Waco.

Evilia said TxDOT officials told local transportation planners last month that $18 million more in cuts were needed. He said the MPO will need to hold a new public input process on the revised plan, and state officials have signaled that no final decisions should be made until the new year.

Local TxDOT and MPO staff are proposing to delay the project to upgrade Spring Valley Road in Hewitt, which would add a center turn between Sun Valley Boulevard and Hewitt Drive, along with pedestrian infrastructure around Spring Valley Elementary School. The $12 million project would use $10 million in Category 2 funds.

Evilia said it is an important project given Hewitt’s ongoing growth.

“That’s still a growing area, and it was going to deal with drainage issues,” he said.

The city of Hewitt already has been relocating utility infrastructure along Spring Valley in preparation for the road work.

The other project teed up to be kicked down the road is the State Highway 31 overpass at Farm-to-Market Road 2311 near Axtell, an intersection that has seen serious wrecks. The project would have used $10 million in Category 2 funds. Evilia said it is possible the project could qualify for a competitive round of safety funds.

Another Highway 31 overpass at F.M. 939 is still in the four-year plan at a cost of $5 million. That intersection is also known for deadly crashes and is at the turnoff for a proposed new city of Waco landfill.

Evilia said the projects cut from the four-year plan will be inserted into an appendix to the plan to signal they are high priorities in case more state or federal money becomes available.

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Managing editor

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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