Honkin' Mad

Seriously? More I-35 construction? Just when we thought it was OK to drive to Austin

Here we go again.

Dallas-Fort Worth drivers who wish to travel to Austin should prepare for construction delays again on Interstate 35 in Waco. This time, the road work is expected to last five years, through May 2024.

A $340 million-plus project on a four-mile section of the I-35 main lanes in the heart of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ hometown began this week.

For seasoned Texas motorists, particularly those who drive frequently from North Texas to the state capital, it can be difficult to remember a time when I-35 wasn’t under construction in West, Waco, Temple and many points between. Portions of the corridor, often considered the economic backbone of Texas, have been under construction for nearly 10 years.

The congestion related to the orange barrels often adds an hour or more to the 200-mile drive from Fort Worth to Austin, which under ideal conditions should take only about three hours. Traffic on days when there is a major wreck on the freeway — or a football game at Baylor, whose McLane Stadium is right up on the highway — can be even worse.

But a Texas Department of Transportation spokesman says this particular part of Waco features highways that are decades overdue for a makeover.

“This section that is being replaced in Waco was from the 1960s era,” said Ken Roberts, an agency spokesman based in Waco. “The infrastructure itself is deteriorating and we need to reconstruct it, (including) the bridges and capacity on frontage roads.”

Avoid traffic

The northern boundary of the road work is Loop 340, and drivers who want to steer around the congestion can take that loop around the eastern side of Waco.

The southern boundary of the road work is 12th street, which is smack in the middle of Waco.

In between lies downtown Waco’s Magnolia area, as well as Baylor University. Those places and many other local attractions will be harder to reach during the next five years.

The work got underway on Monday, and at least in the initial hours the traffic congestion has been minimal, Roberts said.

The goal of the project includes expanding I-35 to four lanes in each direction (up from three lanes today) and modernizing frontage roads and ramps.

During at least part of the construction, traffic will be reduced to just two lanes in each direction. Some re-striping has already taken place, in preparation for moving two lanes of southbound traffic to the northbound side of the road.

Get updates

Residents who wish to receive project updates can sign up by emailing MY35Waco@txdot.gov, calling (254) 313-WACO (9226) or following the transportation department on Twitter at @TxDOTWacoPIO.

Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.