State transportation officials announced Thursday they will close the Central Avenue exit from northbound Interstate 35 for about a year during the latest phase of I-35 construction.
Exit 301, which provides access to downtown Temple as well as Central and Adams avenues, will close sometime next week.
“Traffic will get off at exit 300 and you can just stay on the access road all the way across there,” Jodi Wheatley, Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said after officials gave a presentation to the Temple City Council.
Wheatley said access to downtown through Central Avenue will be maintained during the closure, but motorists will have to stay on the access road from exit 300 until they reach Central Avenue. Side streets intersecting the access road will have stop signs, but traffic along the access road will not stop in order to keep traffic flowing.
“We’ll have signs (for downtown). You’ll just be on the access road longer, and when you turn down there at Central Avenue, you’ll be right where you were,” Wheatley said.
She said that while the exit shutdown isn’t ideal, such closures are a part of the I-35 rebuilding process.
“It will be a whole lot better (once finished), but it probably will be annoying to people to have to do something different,” Wheatley said. “Unfortunately, that’s part of what we have to do in this process. We have to be annoying, but this is the smoothest way we could do this.”
State Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, told the Telegram that he stays in close contact with TxDOT and the contractor, James Construction. Shine said he believes the changes will require an adjustment for drivers, but he doesn’t think the impact on downtown businesses will be significant.
“I think that those general retail facilities that are open in the evenings and the weekends will still get service,” Shine said. “It might take people a few days to realize alternate routes will be a little bit of an inconvenience for a little period of time. I’m confident that they will try to complete this as quickly as possible.”
Engineer John Habermann briefed the Council on other aspects of I-35 construction, such as the elevated highway portion between south Loop 363 and Avenue H that will be demolished soon.
“Coming up before the end of the month, the northbound traffic is going to be put down on the bottom and that will give the contractor the ability to commence demolition on the last elevated section through Temple and then continue digging to get it even with the existing grade of the new (lower) pavement,” Habermann said.
Southbound traffic has been on new depressed pavement for the past couple months. Since the final project will result in four lanes in each direction, Habermann said TxDOT can put northbound traffic on two of the new lanes that will eventually be used for southbound while the new northbound lanes are completed.
Once northbound traffic is diverted, Habermann said the department can begin to demolish the old elevated roadway. During this process, the underpass at Avenue H will be closed.
“The good news is, the new U-turn at the railroad tracks just north of (Avenue H) is built and completed, so traffic will go right by Avenue H, make a U-turn and be able to head back south (on the frontage road) again,” Habermann said.
Another aspect reaching completion is the southbound frontage road, which was finished this week.
“If you’re at the Shell station at the north loop, you can go south all the way to BJ’s (Restaurant & Brewhouse) without getting on I-35. The southbound frontage road in Temple is now continuous, which is a nice milestone for this community,” Habermann said, referring to new bridges over railroad tracks.
He said that the new Adams and Central Avenue bridges should also be operational by the end of the year. I-35 construction through Temple is still scheduled to reach substantial completion in the spring of 2019.
Mayor Danny Dunn thanked the TxDOT representatives for their work.
“We give you a hard time, but it’s a monumental undertaking,” Dunn said. “Thank you for doing it as quickly as you can and also for keeping us all updated. Y’all are doing a great job and it doesn’t get said enough.”
Staff writer Jacob Sanchez contributed to this report