By Adam Gibson | Assistant News Editor
This weekend, Waco’s I-35 traffic will be diverted to frontage roads while construction crews demolish the Forrest Street Bridge north of Martin Luther King Boulevard from 4 p.m. Saturday through 10 a.m. Sunday.
The Texas Department of Transportation construction crews and police will be assisting with traffic control in the closure areas. According to Jodi Wheatley, spokeswoman for Texas Department of Transportation in Waco, the demolition of the bridge will take place in several different stages throughout this weekend, beginning with the closing of ramps at 4 p.m.
“At 7 p.m. they are going to close the main lanes [of I-35] from both directions and that is when the full section will be completely closed down,” Wheatley said. “They’re expecting that to be finished and to get all of the construction barrels and all the traffic control elements picked up by 10 a.m. Sunday morning.”
Because the bridge spans a section of road under construction to widen I-35, the bridge must be demolished and must be moved out as well. This demolition is just a small part of the overall project to replace all of I-35 through Waco, Wheatley said.
Beginning next year, construction will take place to rebuild I-35 to put down new pavement and repair any damage to the highway.
“The project for all of I-35 through Waco is to remove everything,” Wheatley said. “Nobody ever thought that this kind of traffic was going to be coming along — neither this much of it nor the increase of the weight. Trucks back then were nowhere near as large as they are now and weren’t as heavy… What we are going to do is take out all the old pavement and put in new pavement that is designed for what they are expecting to be the traffic load for 33-35 years out from now. So, it will be much stronger, bigger, wider, better pavement.”
While the construction is going on this weekend, Wheatley recommends finding alternate routes to your destination and that one might find it “easier to try to go downtown a little bit.” I-35 will be detoured to access roads, and Wheatley also said it might be difficult for cross traffic going from one side of I-35 to the other.
“Like for instance going from Baylor to downtown, you are going to want to go down to probably 18th or 17th Street crossings and cross there and then go across,” Wheatley said. “Or 11th and 12th will be open, but you’re going to want to avoid that area right in front of Baylor… University parks and MLK will both be closed to cross traffic. You won’t be able to go under I35 on either of those roads.”
Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Ken Roberts added that anyone who is traveling should be aware of this construction and expect traffic in the area.
“We want to ensure that as much of the traveling public is aware of what’s taking place and that there can be, and that they should anticipate delays, to seek alternate routes around this work that is taking place, but again, as we get into the heavier traffic time of day things will be cleared,” Roberts said. “The intent is to minimize the impact on the travelling public and maintain safety as much as absolutely possible.”
Wheatley said that while the demolition of the bridge is set to finish at 10 a.m. Sunday, if any problems arise then the end date may be pushed back until the construction is complete.
“If they have any problems along the way, they may have to extend that but that we don’t know. We hope that is not going to be required but when you’re knocking down a bridge, you just have to keep going until you’re done,” Wheatley said.