Frontage bridges to enhance downtown, I-35

Nick Berryman | Lariat Photographer
Bob Austin, a project engineer, discusses the Interstate Highway 35 frontage road bridge construction project.

By Ade Adesanya

The Texas Department of Transportation hosted a final public hearing Thursday night on the construction of two new frontage road bridges over the Brazos River, which runs parallel to University Parks Drive in Waco. The bridges will span between University Parks Drive and Martin Luther King Boulevard on Interstate Highway 35.

Under the corridor expansion plan, the existing frontage road, which runs parallel to I-35, will extend the I-35 frontage over the bridge northbound and southbound.

“This project will give our city’s downtown a signature element which is just in line with our downtown economic revitalization project,” said Chris McGowan, the urban development director of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.

Leaders of the Waco project hope that opening access to the downtown area will improve the economic development of Waco. These bridges will include three new exit ramps to decongest the highway in case of high traffic while giving motorists alternate routes to downtown destinations.

“The new bridges will allow motorists to make safer lane changes while not compromising the safety of pedestrians and cyclists who will be on wider sidewalks and road shoulders,” said Jodi Wheatley, the TxDOT I-35 information specialist.

The southbound exit ramp for University Parks Drive will be moved closer to the street and the remaining entrance to the road will be closed.

The hearing also detailed the blueprint of the bridge and mentioned an additional 50 feet of right-of-way that will be needed on the west of I-35.

“We expect minor residential or business displacement and in event of displacement, individuals affected will be compensated the fair market value of their property in compliance with the Texas purchase of right of way guidelines. We have independent appraisers determine property value,” said Sharon Rejcek, the right-of-way agent for TxDOT.

The “extradosed” style of the bridge is a result of a combination of ideas by representatives of the Waco community, city officials and TxDOT. The style of the bridge combines a girder bridge and a cable-bridge design to create a modernized appearance.

“This extradosed design is so unique; the bridges here in Waco will be one of the few in the United States and the only one in Texas,” said Greg Malatek, the Waco deputy district engineer.

Russell Devorsky represents the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization and Robert Braswell represents McLennan County in the I-35 segment committee whose input expresses the needs and economic development plans of Waco and McLennan County respectively.

Funding for the bridges was approved in October and will be paid for by Proposition 12 funds. The bridge construction project will be clear for bidding in August 2011.

In coming months, TxDOT will engage the community by conducting public involvement studies and environmental studies prior to commencing construction.

These studies will assess the environmental effects the construction of the bridges will cause.

“The idea behind the expansion of the I-35 corridor is to make the corridor a multimodal system of transportation where the railway will run alongside the highway system to improve transportation of people and goods,” Ken Roberts, the public information officer for the TxDOT Waco district, said.

This is another step forward for the downtown and the Greater Waco economic development plan. Construction may begin as early as spring 2012.

“We are pleased to have this project, which will move our community forward,” said James Vaughan, president of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.