TEMPLE — The face of Central Texas is changing daily because of the many road construction projects that will create better roadways for the future, said Jodi Wheatley, Interstate 35 specialist for Texas Department of Transportation.
But road construction creates hazards and could put a damper on holiday travel for many this year and for years to come as the I-35 expansion project bulldozes its way through landscapes formerly filled with businesses, homes and pastures.
“We recommend starting travel early and taking it slow,” Wheatley said. “Unplanned incidents can still cause trouble and block lanes. Consider alternate routes, but if you have to drive I-35, allow extra time and be aware of the conditions around you so you don’t have to be stressed and rushed.”
Main lane closures ended Dec. 19 for the holidays and won’t resume until 10 p.m. Jan. 2, Wheatley said.
Be more cautious, she said.
“There may be a little work going on behind the barrier in a few places, but with the restrictions we’ve put on the work for the holidays, our contractors are mostly shutting down and taking time off for themselves and their crews,” she said.
In Bell County, new lanes are being built and roadways are being resurfaced on I-35 and U.S. Highway 190 and bridges and interchanges are being constructed on Loop 363 in Temple.
Work is ongoing on some county roads, including Farm-to-Market 2670 and FM 1123.
Those projects represent only a drop in the bucket of what TxDOT is doing throughout Texas.
Accidents in road construction areas already resulted in several fatalities in 2013 because drivers didn’t slow down according to road conditions, Wheatley said.
Crash data gathered by TxDOT for 2012 showed 51 fatalities in Bell County. Thirty of those were on I-35 or other U.S. and state highways.
Throughout the state, 3,399 people died in 2012 on Texas roadways, including 511 on interstate roads.
In Temple, construction is active at I-35 and Loop 363 South; I-35 at Midway Drive; FM 1143/Industrial Boulevard to North Loop 363; Loop 363 South to Midway Drive and I-35 at North Loop 363.
For motorists, the Texas Department of Public Safety has a toll-free helpline, 1-800-525-5555, to assist drivers with various situations, such as a disabled vehicle, being stranded on the roadway or needing to report a drunk driver.
Impaired drivers are a larger risk factor during the holidays when some drivers decide to drink and drive, DPS Director Steven McCraw said.
With that in mind, the DPS increased patrols Dec. 13 and will continue them through Jan. 2.
The patrols are funded through a TxDOT grant that targets impaired driving, McCraw said.