A new State Highway 31 overpass at Farm-to-Market Road 2311, also known as Heritage Parkway, is a priority project that could start as early as next year.
The Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board made amendments Thursday to its 24-year and four-year plans that solidify funding for the overpass just outside Axtell, along with the final stage of Interstate 35 widening in Waco, Franklin Avenue reconstruction and design of U.S. Highway 84 widening as short-term priorities.
The Highway 31 overpass has been designed and awaiting funding for a few years, MPO Director Mukesh Kumar said. It was designed at the same time as another Highway 31 overpass project at TK Parkway near the city of Waco’s new landfill site. Work on the overpass at TK Parkway started in 2021 and finished earlier this year.
People are also reading…
The two overpasses were likely to be reconstructed together until state-mandated funding cuts to the MPO’s discretionary budget in 2020 due to state budget issues placed the Heritage Parkway overpass on hold. TxDOT asked the Waco MPO cut $70 million from the amount it expected to receive from TxDOT over four years.
Amendments made Thursday programmed $12.2 million into the MPO’s Transportation Improvement Program, a four-year plan, for the reconstructed intersection at Heritage Parkway.
This year, TxDOT made shifts in its own state and federally allocated budget to make the project possible without using the MPO’s discretionary funding from the state, known as Category 2 funding.
“The construction estimate changed slightly, and the most important change is that early on … MPO Category 2 was supposed to contribute to that one, but the way it worked out was … the TxDOT district came up with a way that no Cat. 2 money was needed for State Highway 31,” Kumar said. “So basically it’s going to be funded entirely by TxDOT.”
Both bridge projects are purely safety projects targeting the high number of collisions and fatalities at either intersection.
“There have been major accidents at both of them,” Kumar said. “That’s the reason why both of those projects have been part of our plan for quite some time. It was just a matter of finding funding for them.”
The intersection at Heritage Parkway, like the intersection at TK Parkway before the recent overpass project, has stop signs for the two-lane farm-to-market road crossing the four-lane highway with a wide median.
Kumar said it is the MPO’s expectation that the Highway 31 project could be let next year, meaning bids from contractors would be opened and reviewed, pending acceptance by the Federal Highway Administration. Since TxDOT has systems for letting only a certain volume of projects at any time, “it’s just a matter of which month is most suitable” when waiting for the project to be let, he said.
The MPO will still chip in its own allocation of state funding on the I-35 “4C” project and other highway projects, Kumar said.
The Interstate 35 4C project, which will widen the highway from six to eight lanes from South Loop 340 to 12th Street, could get started next year as well, Kumar said. The 4C project will also include a cloverleaf intersection at Valley Mills Drive and I-35 and will remove the flyover bridge from Valley Mills to the highway.
A timeline is less certain on widening Franklin Avenue, also known as Spur 298, to six lanes and adding an overpass at New Road, he said.
“State Highway 31, I would expect that to happen much sooner,” he said. “For I-35, we are programming it actually for 2026 right now, but we are expecting that if money became more available, we’d probably do another amendment. So we’re hopeful that it will be let in 2024 as well.”
Also amended into the Metropolitan Transportation Plan, a long-range plan, were design and engineering for projects along U.S. Highway 84 from Hewitt Drive to Valley Mills Drive, including:
- A $40 million reconstruction of Spur 298, also known as Franklin Avenue
- Highway 84 reconstruction from Hewitt Drive to Spur 298, a $179 million project
- A new $8 million project for a ramp from Spur 298 to Lake Air Drive.