By JUDY SHERIDAN
The kick-off point for the Eastern Loop around Weatherford — an interchange at I-20 and Center Point Road — took a big step forward last month when the North Central Texas Council of Governments included the project’s bridge and frontage roads in its Transportation Improvement Program.
“It provides us official access to funding to hopefully complete the interchange,” County Judge Mark Riley said. “To access state and federal money, a project has to be in the TIP.”
The $22 million project includes a bridge, entrance ramps and the completion of the eastbound service road from Center Point Road to Lake Shore Drive, Riley said, as well as the westbound access road from Center Point to Bankhead Highway on the intersection’s north side. The project’s final piece is building the eastbound access road from Love’s Travel Stop to Center Point.
“We’re looking at phasing it,” the judge said, cautioning that the plans are preliminary. “We would do the bridge for about $10 million and the eastbound service road from Center Point to Lake Shore for about $7 million. Engineers believe that’s the best way to phase it.”
When the Regional Transportation Council, where Riley serves as secretary, approves a TIP, it locks in federal and state funds for the project, Riley said, in this case $10 million for the first phase. The county, along with the cities of Weatherford and Hudson Oaks, will provide the $7 million local contribution.
“We have been working for some months on funding partnerships for the interchange with the Eastern Loop, a lot of meetings, a lot of hours,” Riley said in a recent meeting, announcing the project’s inclusion in the TIP, while noting the selective use of federal funds during the construction of the 2008 transportation bond projects.
“The federal funding we didn’t spend on our projects to date — with the work TxDOT did and all the things we’ve done — we’ve been able to move money around and reserve some of that money that can only be spent in certain places, anyway. It is now in the regional plan, so we’re able to proceed with what we authorize, what Freese and Nichols has been doing preliminary work on.
“As that becomes available, that will make a huge impact, and we’ll continue to work with TxDOT, Hudson Oaks and Weatherford in consolidating the rest of the funding,” he said.
By the time the bond projects are complete and the new interchange is built, Riley said, the region will have accessed $25 million in state and federal funds.
The judge said he is often asked whether Parker County will initiate another bond program, and the answer is no.
“Parker County is not doing a bond election again,” he said. “We will use our resources — plus whatever I can get from partnerships, which include the state and region.”
In contrast with the Ric Williamson Memorial Highway, or Western Loop around Weatherford, which began construction at FM Road 51 north of Weatherford and progressed south, the Eastern Loop will start with the I-20 interchange — opening the interstate up for development — and head north.
Freese and Nichols has developed a preliminary schematic of the loop’s route, according to bond project updates, and is analyzing it with respect to traffic projections from the Texas Department of Transportation.
Engineers will present the proposed route to the court in the next few months, Riley said.