TEMPLE WEATHER

I-14 UPDATE

TxDOT: I-14 expansion through Temple could begin by 2027

DAVID STONE | OUR TOWN TEMPLE

Plans for Bell County’s own little interstate to eventually stretch 1,300 miles from Odessa to Augusta, Ga., may take decades, but work to expand I-14 through Temple could start by 2027, officials close to the project said this week.

“Interstate 14 expansion to Temple then eastward to Rogers could start in a few as four to six years,” said Jake Smith, spokesman for Texas Department of Transportation’s Waco District. “TxDOT has already started an environmental study, and the schematic design process will begin in 2023.”

Last summer, President Joe Biden signed a more than $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law, and that package is putting $550 billion in new funds into transportation and utility projects. Bell County Judge David Blackburn and other officials hope that means the I-14 expansion plan will get a significant financial boost.

“Federal funds are flowing with the passage of last year’s infrastructure bill,” Blackburn said. “This is the time to move forward — quite a bit of federal funding is flowing to states for mobility projects.”

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Don Rodman, administrator for the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition, has been working on the I-14 project since 2001, and he sees last year’s infrastructure bill and a change in I-14 designation as important steps forward.

“Interstate 14 received Texas designation in 2015, and last year Congress changed that to a five-state designation,” Rodman said. “But, that did not come with money attached.”

“The National Interstate & Defense Highways Act of 1956 helped establish interstate highways in the United States, but that program ended years ago,” he said. “Now, there is no direct federal program for building interstates. Each state’s Department of Transportation is now responsible, but thankfully there is federal money available. A five-state I-14, however, will be built in stages and it will take several decades to complete.”

According to Rodman, the Unified Transportation Program — a 10-year plan for allocating money for federal transportation projects — shows several I-14 related projects that will begin between 2026 to 2032. 

That plan calls for the widening of US 190 from the western end of I-14 to the Coryell County line. It also includes several Temple projects that will upgrade US 190 to a freeway between South 31st Street and the eastern portion of Loop 363 by removing traffic signals and building overpasses or underpasses. The plan does not list a I-35/I-14 flyover that would connect to US 190, a project that would be vital to a I-14 designation in Temple, but Smith said that would be included in the Temple project.

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Jason Deckman, a senior Temple city planner, said the city will be involved in determining what interchanges along I-14 will look like in Temple.

“We want to take a close look at how the project will affect Temple residents and commuter traffic into our city,” he said. “Our concern is how the interstate will affect traffic flow in Temple. To bring that section of Loop 363 to interstate standards, traffic lights must be removed and either overpasses or underpasses must be built.”

Deckman said the South 31st interchange with Loop 363 is a concern. There are currently signals on each side of the bridge that crosses the loop, and traffic congestion is a problem. A design that would allow motorists leaving the Baylor Scott & White campus to get on the future interstate without stopping at a light would relieve some of the congestion, he said.

Besides 31st Street, interchanges at South 5th, South 1st, Barnhardt Road and MLK Boulevard also would require revision, as would the railroad overpass east of Temple College. Also, frontage roads along the I-14 corridor in Temple would require revamping and additional frontage road sections would need to be built. 

While many details of the I-14 expansion are still in the air, Deckman said the city could be at least partially responsible for expenses related to relocating utilities.

“We may have to move some utilities to make room for road expansions,” Deckman said. “That could involve moving above-ground utilities such as power and telephone lines and below-ground utilities like water, sewer and gas lines.”

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A year ago, the price tag of the expansion project through Temple was $350 million, but inflation likely has driven costs skyward, Deckman said.

Funding for the project will come from a variety of federal and state sources, Smith said, but local entities likely will be involved in the project as well.

Deckman said Temple already has budgeted $1.5 million for the relocation of utilities and the acquisition of right-of-ways.

While the I-14 project could benefit from Biden’s infrastructure plan, Blackburn, the Bell County judge, said there may be some financial matching requirements from cities and possibly counties along the route.

“Right now, we really don’t know,” Blackburn said. “Typically, there are some local financial responsibilities for right-of-ways and utility relocations.”

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While an official starting date for the expansion through Bell County hasn’t been set, steps have been taken for the project to move forward.

Interstate 14 currently extends from Fort Hood to I-35 in Belton. That section of the interstate received federal designation in 2015 and became a reality in 2017. It follows the route of US 190, a major highway that already was in place.

“Construction is continuing on the existing section,” Blackburn said. “I-14 is being expanded from four lanes to six — three in each direction.”

The next phases of the I-14 project — at least locally — will be to take the interstate through Temple and eastward to Rogers and westward to the Coryell County line.

Interstates 14 and 35 will be the same highway from Belton north to Temple, then 14 will veer eastward at the intersection with South HK Dodgen Loop (US 190) near Cracker Barrel. The stretch of interstate between Belton and Temple will be expanded from three to four lanes in each direction.

“The Texas Department of Transportation purchased right-of-ways years ago for flyovers that will eventually take motorists from I-35/ I-14 to what is now US 190 in Temple,” Blackburn said. “That’s a huge project, there are others as well.”

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“Discussions about the need for an east-west interstate through Bell County began years ago as a means of increasing economic development, particularly in the Killeen area,” Blackburn said. “Companies looking to move into a new area have a checklist of things they want and need, and proximity to an interstate is at the top of that list. An interstate designation opens doors of opportunity, there’s no doubt about that.”

Blackburn believes I-14 will eventually cross five states.

“Yes, I think it will become a five-state interstate, but it may not be in my professional lifetime,” he said. “There are obstacles, especially when it comes to funding.”

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