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Waco facing road funding challenge: Highway 6, I-35 overpass projects proposed for delay, 3 others would go ahead

Waco facing road funding challenge: Highway 6, I-35 overpass projects proposed for delay, 3 others would go ahead

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Interstate (copy)

The Interstate 35 bridge over New Road, which does not comply with modern clearance standards, shows the marks where trucks have hit it, officials said. A local plan formed in response to state funding challenges would delay replacement of the bridge.

Local transportation officials are proposing to delay two major road projects and move up the start dates on three others to adapt to state funding challenges.

If approved by the state, the plan would see work start next fiscal year on a $12 million overhaul of Spring Valley Road in Hewitt, $20 million in additions to State Highway 31 on a route to a planned city landfill, and a $48 million reconfiguration of frontage roads along Loop 340 between Waco’s two major shopping centers. The plan would delay an $8 million widening of Highway 6 north of Speegleville and $33 million in Interstate 35 work, not related to the ongoing widening, that would include a new overpass at New Road.

The Policy Board of the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization signed off on the proposal Tuesday. It is in response to a state request to delay $70 million in work slated for the next four years, with $50 million of that coming from Category 2 funds, the state allocation the local MPO has discretion to use on its priority projects. The two projects the board has proposed to delay are estimated to cost a combined $41 million, all in Category 2 money.

Policy Board Chair Jacob Bell said he supports the idea.

“We have five projects we need to consider,” Bell said. “Two of them we can take off the table pretty quickly, but the other three we just have a really hard time taking off the table yet, so we really would like to push them forward.”

MPO Director Chris Evilia said the issue at the state level is that too many MPOs planned Category-2-funded work for the next four years. MPOs across the state slated about 60% of their funding for a 10-year period to go to projects in those four years, Evilia said. But next fiscal year may have room for more projects, so local officials hope moving up start dates of the three here will win state approval.

“The idea, hopefully, is that because all of those will be in fiscal year ‘21, the state is a little bit under-programmed in terms of projects ready for construction, hopefully these are all able to go that fiscal year,” Evilia said.

The Texas Transportation Commission will have final say over which projects move forward and when.

COVID-19 has affected revenue, but the over-scheduling of projects, and the funding they require, is a separate issue that will primarily hit fiscal year 2022, Evilia said.

Spring Valley

The first project up for consideration would add shoulders and a center turn lane to a stretch of Spring Valley Road from Sun Valley Boulevard to Hewitt Drive. It would also add pedestrian infrastructure near Spring Valley Elementary School and improve drainage infrastructure on the road. The total cost estimate of $12 million would include $10 million in Category 2 money.

The Spring Valley project seems to be less “regionally significant” than the other two projects the board hopes to move forward, but the city of Hewitt has already started relocating utility lines in preparation for the work, said Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver, who sits on the 20-member MPO Policy Board. The utility relocation is about a third of the way done.

Deaver said it is important that the MPO find a way to keep that project funded on schedule.

Hewitt City Manager Bo Thomas asked if it would be possible to pay for the project through other Texas Department of Transportation funding categories.

“There has got to be a way to find a little money in the couch cushion somewhere,” Thomas said. “Hewitt hopes that it could get the support of the MPO to help.”

‘Mall to mall’

The $48 million “mall to mall” project along Loop 340 from Highway 84 to I-35 was originally slated for fiscal year 2023, but its start date would move up to next year under the proposal approved Thursday. The MPO also added $4.4 million to the proposed funding to be used as incentives if the contractor completes work on schedule, bumping the total cost estimate to $48 million, including $44 million in Category 2 funding.

The project would result in continuous frontage roads along the stretch of highway that runs between Richland Mall and Central Texas Marketplace, lending the “mall to mall” moniker. It is the most complex of the three projects the MPO hopes to start next year.

Victor Goebel, a director of transportation planning and development with TxDOT’s Waco district, said the MPO’s plan stands a better chance of state approval if all three projects are ready next year.

“We can certainly try,” Goebel said of submitting the plan. “I think it’s going to hinge on getting every project out in FY 2021. There are some obstacles in the mall-to-mall.”

Highway 31

Evilia said a $20 million project that would add overpasses to Highway 31 at Farm-to-Market Road 2311 and Farm-to-Market Road 939 is considered a high priority because fatal and other serious crashes are common at those intersections.

“The overpass work would be significantly effective at reducing those types of crashes if not eliminating those types of crashes altogether,” Evilia said.

Work is slated to start in January, and $10 million of the project cost would come from Category 2 money. The route also is on the way to the proposed site of Waco’s new regional landfill on F.M. 939, also known as T.K. Parkway.

I-35

The MPO had planned to pursue a $33 million project to reconstruct I-35 frontage roads between Valley Mills Drive and New Road and to replace bridges at New Road. If the project is delayed, the MPO likely will not revisit it until 2025, Evilia said.

In June, the board decided to only pursue the project if it could be completed alongside the larger I-35 reconstruction further north that started last year. That timeline would have required the $33 million project, funded completely by Category 2 money, to start in the upcoming fiscal year.

“We as a community are pretty weary of I-35 construction,” Evilia said.

Highway 6

The proposal approved Thursday would delay an $8 million widening of Highway 6 from McLaughlin Road to Farm-to-Market Road 185, also known as North River Crossing. Category 2 money would have covered the full $8 million estimated cost.


Photo gallery — Interstate 35 widening project through Waco

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