When ground was broken on the Interstate 35 expansion project in Temple in May 2013, Bill Jones, Temple mayor at the time, said the improved highway would change the face of the community.
Temple Mayor Tim Davis said Thursday the improved interstate makes Temple look good.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony signified the end of major construction on the project.
“This is a great moment,” said state Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple.
When the I-35 plans were working their way through the state bureaucracy, Temple leadership saw it as an opportunity to improve the community’s look to the drivers and passengers of the 111,000 vehicles that travel through the city each day, Davis said.
“Now it’s our job to capitalize on this opportunity,” he said. “I’m proud of what we have done.”
The Temple portion of the reconstruction project was 7.5 miles and cost $241 million.
In May 2013, when construction was set to begin, it was the single largest contract ever for construction by the Waco District, that number has since been eclipsed by the 5.8-mile, $341 million, I-35 reconstruction project now underway in Waco. At the time of the ground-breaking ceremony in Temple, the project was to be completed in four years.
Many city, county and state officials were on hand for the ribbon cutting.
Interstate 35 runs 1,569 miles from Mexico to Canada, said Randy C. Hopmann, director of district operations for TxDOT and Texas has 505 miles of the interstate going from the Red River to the Rio Grande.
“Over $750 billion in goods travel on I-35 each year, 40 percent of Texans live in the counties that I-35 travels through,” Hopmann said. “We at TxDOT refer to I-35 as Main Street Texas.”
The goal is for I-35 to have at least six lanes as it travels though Texas. About $9 billion of that work has been completed, with $3.6 billion of the project under construction.
“Our work is never completed along this corridor, and about $26 billion in additional improvements have been identified,” Hopmann said.
Davis said orange barrels have played a role in his dreams since construction on I-35 in Temple began. “My hope is that those dreams stop,” he said.
Davis recognized Mat Naegele with Lamar Advertising who helped out when ramps off I-35 changed and people didn’t know where to exit in order to get to their destinations.
“Mat stepped up at his own expense and put up billboards in town to make sure people knew where to get off to get to their destinations,” Davis said.
State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, said her office had been working for three years to do whatever was possible to the get the project completed.
Buckingham sponsored SB 282, which benefits small communities like Salado that suffer significant losses when access to their communities is hindered as a result of construction.
Salado, a village reliant on tourism, was negatively impacted by a year-long delay on the widening of I-35. Officials previously said 82 of the Salado’s 127 businesses shut down during the four years that it took to improve I-35.
The bill takes the fines assessed by TxDOT to contractors for construction delays and gives the money to the communities and areas affected by the construction, Buckingham said.
The multi-year project included widening the main lanes of the highway through Temple to four lanes in each direction, along with the rebuilding of all bridges, except South Loop 363 and North Loop 363, according to TxDOT.
The merge point of State Highway 53 and FM 2305/Adams Avenue was moved west, allowing the I-35/Adams-Central avenues interchange to be redesigned, improving safety for drivers.
The area around Industrial Boulevard/Spur 290 was significantly reconfigured, with two bridges being combined into one, simplifying traffic flow through the area, TxDOT said.
On- and off-ramps were upgraded, generally being made longer and placed so that traffic exits from the highway to the access road before traffic on the access road enters the highway, allowing drivers on both parts of the highway to enter and exit the main lanes more safely. The previously existing elevated section of the main lanes was rebuilt mostly at ground level with additional crossings and U-turns.
One of the final issues regarding road construction to be addressed is traffic flow at the crossing of I-35 at Adams and Central avenues.
Ken Robert, TxDOT spokesman, said once the striping of lanes is complete, final roads opened on Tuesday, and timing of traffic signals is in sync, there will be a noticeable improvement.