Area motorists who drive U.S. Highway 190 through Killeen can look forward to 2½ years of lane closures, detours and traffic delays.
And it all starts Tuesday.
That’s when the Texas Department of Transportation breaks ground on a $55.4 million project to widen U.S. 190 between Fort Hood’s Main Gate and W.S. Young Drive.
The four-mile stretch is one of the most heavily traveled parts of the highway, with traffic counts in excess of 89,000 vehicles daily — and most of that traffic is concentrated at morning and afternoon rush hours.
The project calls for adding a lane in each direction as well as installing upgrades to frontage roads, drainage and bridges. Given the scope of work involved, it’s easy to appreciate a price tag that amounts to almost $14 million per mile.
Many Central Texans remember the disruption caused by the widening of U.S. 190 between the Main Gate and Copperas Cove, and the next portion is likely to be equally troublesome — though the entire expansion project is being done within TxDOT’s existing right of way.
Of particular note is the area around the Jasper Road overpass, where the highway is bordered by sloping concrete embankments. Workers will have to carve two additional lanes out of the roadway, while reducing the slope of the adjacent walls. This will undoubtedly mean sporadic lane closures while the new roadway is put in place, though a TxDOT spokesman noted most roadwork will take place during the nighttime hours.
Similar challenges are likely to occur between Trimmier Road and W.S. Young Drive, where businesses are tightly packed along the highway. Here, the grassy median will provide the space for the additional lanes, with a barrier erected between the eastbound and westbound lanes.
The overpasses themselves also must be widened to accommodate the additional lanes, which will impact traffic at the highway’s intersection with Jasper Road/Fort Hood Street, Trimmier and W.S. Young. The Willow Springs interchange will be reworked and a new bridge will be put in place.
Farther east, motorists will encounter more construction as Killeen moves forward with the Rosewood Overpass Project, which will create a new U.S. 190 overpass on Rosewood Drive, near Skylark Field. When completed, the $17 million project will create a five-lane north-south thoroughfare that connects Stagecoach Road with Farm-to-Market 2410.
Also, FM 2410 will receive a $2.3 million facelift, with a widening project between Stan Schlueter Loop and Roy Reynolds Drive — a much-needed expansion of what is currently a heavily traveled two-lane roadway. Work on both projects is scheduled to begin next month.
Combined with the nearly completed U.S. 190 bypass around Copperas Cove and the new westbound U.S. 190 interchange at I-35 in Belton, the Killeen highway improvement projects will greatly ease congestion and reduce travel times for Central Texas drivers.
Both city and TxDOT officials have said the highway improvements are essential to the efficient transport of troops between Fort Hood and other military installations — particularly Fort Bliss in El Paso.
Of course, there are those who will question if the widening project is necessary, especially given the disruption it will cause.
The question is further legitimized by a recent Army report that projected Fort Hood’s soldier population could dip below 40,000 in 2020, if the service adopts a particular realignment plan.
The potential cuts from next month’s looming sequestration deadline could further reduce Fort Hood’s numbers, both in terms of troop strength and civilian employees connected to the post.
If those scenarios play out, would the U.S. 190 project be a good investment?
Ultimately, the answer is yes.
That same Army report projected Fort Hood’s soldier population at 50,000 by 2020, if a different realignment plan is adopted. Also, as the Army evolves over the coming decades, it’s possible even more troops will be stationed here.
And regardless of size of the local military population, the Killeen area is likely to continue growing at a healthy clip. A TxDOT study projects the traffic count to rise to 211,600 daily over the next 20 years.
It is better to be prepared and build the added highway capacity now than try to play catch-up later.
Meanwhile, it’s time for Killeen-area drivers to prepare for more orange cones, concrete barricades and reduced speed limits.
Like it or not, it’s all part of progress.