The clock has started ticking on the U.S. Highway 190 widening project.
Last Wednesday, the $50 million project — which will add two lanes to the highway between Fort Hood's Main Gate and W.S. Young Drive — went out for bids.
Within three months, the Texas Department of Transportation will award a contract, said TxDOT spokesman Ken Roberts of the Waco District.
A pre-construction meeting with the contractor will focus on "rocks in the road," at which TxDOT engineers will determine any problems that need to be ironed out.
Then, as early as October, construction could begin on what is expected to be a three-year project.
Roberts said a couple of highway ramps will be moved during the project, and concrete barriers will be used to divert traffic from lanes that are under construction. However, he noted that lane closures will be scheduled at night as much as possible to minimize inconvenience to motorists.
And, as with many highway projects, speed limits will be reduced in the work zones and traffic fines will be doubled.
Roberts noted that one advantage to this project is that all utility relocation will be done within the existing right of way.
Of course, there will be challenges to the project as well. Chief among those will be carving two additional lanes out of the bottleneck between Fort Hood Street and Trimmier Road. The highway is currently sandwiched between two steep concrete embankments on either side of the Jasper Road overpass, with just a guardrail separating the eastbound and westbound lanes.
Adding lanes also will necessitate the building of new, wider highway overpasses at Fort Hood Street, Trimmier Road and W.S. Young Drive.
It all sounds complicated, but it could be worse.
Despite some rumors to the contrary, TxDOT will not be widening the U.S. 190 access roads in the project area — at least not now. Roberts said that project will be tackled in a few years.
That's probably a good thing, as the current configuration brings the access roads extremely close to some businesses between Fort Hood Street and Trimmier Road. West of Fort Hood Street, the access roads brush up against the Pershing Park housing areas of Killeen and Fort Hood.
It's likely that the eventual addition of another lane in these constricted areas will result in the relocation of several residents and business establishments.
Still, the disruption caused by the highway widening will be more than enough for most Central Texas motorists.
Many Central Texans no doubt remember the headaches caused by the widening of U.S. 190 between the Main Gate and Copperas Cove — especially at morning and evening rush hours.
This second phase of the project promises to be just as frustrating to motorists, especially since construction will be taking place in an area with more residential and commercial development.
And there's more to come.
A project to build an east-to-west turnaround bridge at Farm-to-Market 2410 in Harker Heights got under way last week, and construction is expected to begin this fall on the expansion of Rosewood Drive, with a tie-in to U.S. 190.
Roberts noted that the widening of U.S. 190 eventually will extend all the way to I-35 in Belton, though that development is likely several years away.
Of course, the question that must be asked is whether all this disruption and expense is worth the effort.
For those who drive U.S. 190 frequently — particularly during the early morning and late afternoon rush periods — the answer is a resounding "yes."
Roberts noted that traffic counts along U.S. 190 between Fort Hood's Main Gate and Stan Schlueter Loop average 109,000 vehicles daily. A large percentage of that number reflects peak traffic times, but the figure still averages out to more than 4,500 vehicles per hour.
Traffic counts have fluctuated with deployments of Fort Hood troops overseas, but just five years ago, the U.S. 190 segment between Fort Hood's Main Gate and W.S. Young Drive averaged 86,000 vehicles every 24 hours.
Apparently, the highway widening project is necessary.
Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin noted last week that improved traffic flow could be a consideration when the Base Realignment and Closure Commission assesses the nation's military installations again in 2015.
He also said the project will improve the quality of life in the city.
That's undoubtedly true in the long term, but at times during the three-year widening project, that goal may seem to be a long way down the road.