I-35 construction leads to changes near Baylor campus

Piping being prepped for installation as part of the expansion on I-35. Cole Tompkins | Multimedia Editor

By Tyler Bui | Staff Writer

Reconstruction of Interstate 35 continues to make changes on and around the Baylor campus, with updates like lane closures and construction zones having the potential to affect members of the Baylor and Waco communities.

Lori Fogleman, assistant vice president of media and public relations for Baylor, and Kenneth Roberts, public information officer for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), will both play an important role in communicating the changes and traffic updates to the Baylor community.

According to Fogleman and Roberts, a few major changes have been accomplished thus far: the I-35 pedestrian bridge at Eighth Street has been removed, I-35 downtown Fourth and Fifth Street exit 335A has been removed, a portion of Dutton Avenue has been temporarily closed between Fifth Street and Eighth Street and the process of removing the 11th and 12th Street bridge has begun.

In a recent Aug.13 BaylorNewsFlash, further updates were mentioned regarding lane closures and how they could affect traffic.

“Eastbound traffic on University Parks drive has shifted to a single lane on the westbound side of the road from Robinson Tower to Dutton Ave., where it then shifts back to the regular eastbound lanes of University Parks drive,” the alert read. “Westbound traffic on University Parks Drive has been reduced to two lanes from Dutton Avenue to Robinson Tower to accommodate the eastbound single lane.”

The purpose of the Waco 4B North Project is to accomplish four main points: improve safety and mobility, add capacity, incorporate technology and enhance aesthetics on the six mile stretch of I-35 from North 340 Loop to 12th St., according to my35.org.

Roberts said this project was necessary given the continuous population increase in Texas.

“The TxDOT’s No. 1 priority is safety,” Roberts said. “What we’ve looked at is the need to increase capacity in response to the growth of Texas along the I-35 corridor. The added capacity to I-35 will increase efficiency and safety as I-35 is considered to be ‘Main Street Texas.’ When we consider the growth of Texas, it translates to a tremendous number of vehicles and the potential for significant congestion if our roadways are not built to accommodate that.”

Given the proximity of the project to the Baylor campus, Baylor has created a campus wide subcommittee in order to keep the community informed and aware of the changes being made near campus.

TxDOT has created a tool for students, faculty, staff and visitors to use that will assist in the safe navigation of construction and road closures on and around campus—Waco4Bmap.org.

Fogleman said this tool will help to plan and safely navigate around construction zones.

“Be patient, alert, resilient and know before you go,” Fogleman said. “Waco4Bmap.org is an excellent tool that provides real-time traffic information, as well as information on planned closures. It also provides alerts and live camera feeds up and down I-35 for pedestrians, drivers and bicyclists.”

Construction crews officially broke ground on April 29 and have worked continuously since the start date.

“The primary impact is the widening of the roadways from six to eight lanes,” Roberts said. “We will remove bridges and overpasses within the six-mile stretch, frontage roads will be rebuilt and entrance and exit ramps will be upgraded.”

Roberts stressed the importance of safety during this project given the hazards that are present in construction zones.

“You cannot cross the main lanes of the interstate anywhere,” Roberts said. “You can only cross at authorized and safe locations such as Fourth and Fifth St. and University Parks. It is extremely important that students are aware of the hazards of crossing the interstate through our work zones.”

Fogleman noted that the improvements will increase the number of safety measures, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“If we look at the university specifically, one of the most important aspects of the project for Baylor will be the much-improved pedestrian and bicycle access under the overpasses at University Parks drive, Fourth and Fifth Street and a new overpass that will be built at 11th and 12th Street,” Fogleman said. “At these intersections, there will be better lighting, better traffic and pedestrian signals, and all of that will provide safer mobility between campus and the downtown Waco area for our students, faculty, staff, visitors and alumni.”

TxDOT is working with the Baylor subcommittee and the Baylor Department of Public Safety to best accommodate the changing traffic patterns and updates on and around campus. Regarding high-traffic events involving both the Baylor and Waco communities, measures will be in place to accommodate the increased capacity.

“The subcommittee has provided TxDOT with projected major event dates over the next four years, including football games, commencement, premiere events for prospective students, move-in days and the first day of classes,” Baylor News Online reported in regards to the measures.

With all the updates being made to I-35, Fogleman said the Baylor community must be prepared for change.

“We all have to come into the fall semester with a completely different mindset,” Fogleman said. “The entire project will disrupt normal routines, so we all have to get used to a new normal. We encourage students, faculty and staff to use alternate routes, and it’s a good time to learn those.”