GEORGETOWN — Officials celebrated the beginning of construction on the southern end of State Highway 195 Monday with a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony.
Congressman John Carter, R-Round Rock, and Fort Hood’s garrison commander, Col. Matt Elledge, noted the importance of the occasion with anecdotes about the highway that was once known as Texas’ deadliest.
“It’s not long ago that (SH) 195 was one of our biggest enemies,” Elledge said. “One of the things we used to say is 195 is a death trap, don’t take it.”
When the $117 million project is completed, SH 195’s southern end will mirror its northern end. The highway will be a four-lane divided highway with a wide grass median, said Mark Jones, the area manager for the Texas Department of Transportation.
For a time, Fort Hood command flirted with prohibiting soldiers from traveling the highway, Carter said. He recalled a time in the 1970s when he had planned to travel to Killeen for a Friday night high school football game between Killeen and Round Rock high schools.
“You go up to Belton and across,” Carter said. “You don’t take 195.”
Officials broke ground on the southernmost section of the highway expansion. The $21.5 million portion of the project encompasses the longest stretch of highway in the project at 5.2 miles, but is also the cheapest.
The bypass portion of the project at Florence is the most expensive, constructing 3.75 miles of new roadway that curves east of the small town just south of the Bell-Williamson county line.
The $59.5 million segment builds raised highways over low-lying areas and veers off the highway’s current path just north of State Highway 138 and rejoins the highway just south of the town.
But the most challenging portion of the highway has been the “gap.” The middle 2.85-mile portion has been forced to swerve in and out of the highway’s current path in order to avoid environmentally protected caves and some businesses that abut the highway.
The highway will veer east of its current path near the Rattlesnake Inn and then head west around the small village of Behrnville. Jones said he expects construction on that $36 million segment will begin in the summer.
About 14,000 vehicles travel the highway each day with the total number of commuters about the size of the population of Harker Heights.
Jones said TxDOT expects that number to double in the next 20 years.