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Wed February 08, 2023 - West Edition #4
Construction projects that finish under budget are cause for celebration. So, too, are projects completed ahead of schedule. Those that check both boxes are rare. So, when representatives from Webber, TxDOT, the cities of Waco and Bellmead, Texas, McLennan County, Baylor University and the Woodlands gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the completion of the $341.2 million IH 35 construction project five months ahead of schedule, the moment wasn't lost on the participants.
The project is the largest in the Waco District's history and is "vital" to Texas' future, according to Texas Transportation Commission Chair J. Bruce Bugg.
The scale of this project — the widening and reconstruction of 6.7 miles of IH 35, a section of which crosses the Brazos River — was huge, calling for 250 Webber employees during peak work periods and 300 subcontractor personnel representing 46 entities.
Project highlights include:
Further illustrating the size of the project, crews dealt with the following materials:
"We are proud of how our work and collaboration with all parties involved will stimulate the continued development of the IH-35 corridor, which is so vital to Waco," said José Carlos Esteban, president, CEO of Webber.
"Right now, the state demographer says we have 29 million Texans, but we're on the path between now and 2050 to have 47 million Texans," Bugg said. "We need to be looking ahead. We need to be thinking about where those connections need to be."
The timeline for the massive project initially was slated to extend late into 2024, but Webber has steadily beaten time estimates, with $15 million in incentives included in the project for completing various phases on time or early.
"We have access to resources and technologies to design and build projects no matter the size or scale," added Paloma Fernandez Ruiz, area manager of Webber, a Houston-based company founded in 1963 in Detroit before relocating to Texas in 1979.
As for the equipment used, the long list includes everything from forklifts, dirt buckets and manlifts to excavators, cranes and a range of trailers and trucks. The project also included some unusual equipment requirements.
"Because we had to do work over the Brazos River," Ruiz explained, "barges and tugboats had to be used to move equipment and perform some structural work. Additionally, we faced a lot of utility conflicts as is normal in construction. Fortunately, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the project's owner, understood that communication is key during any project, even more so when conflicts arise. Throughout the project, they quickly provided us with answers and solutions."
The partnership between TxDOT and Webber allowed TxDOT to have flexibility in the build process and improvements to the traffic control plan allowed the project to stay on track.
"Webber proposed a change to the traffic control design plan that allowed its team to cover more areas of work simultaneously," Ruiz said. "TxDOT saw the value of these proposed changes and worked with Webber to revise the plan. This advanced the overall project by approximately five months."
Additionally, TxDOT helped by engaging the community to come up with mutually beneficial solutions.
"For example, Webber had to maintain access to the driveways while working on the frontage roads," Ruiz said. "Originally, we were going to do partial closures and work in small phases. However, TxDOT spoke with the homeowners and business owners to gain their approval of a 48-hour full closure, instead of a partial closure with construction happening around them for two weeks. This minimized the impact to the homeowners and businesses and allowed us to work more efficiently."
Finally, aside from the structural challenges associated with the project, Ruiz said some of the biggest challenges were COVID-related, resulting in new safety procedures in accordance with CDC guidelines, plus remote collaboration and virtual team meeting
"These measures allowed us to continue working throughout the height of the pandemic," Ruiz said. "As a result, the project was never shut down."
An even larger stretch of IH 35 from 12th Street to South Loop 340, nicknamed "Waco South" or 4C, initially was set to be part of the project, but funding constraints led officials to split the work up.
TxDOT Waco District Engineer Stan Swiatek said the 4C phase remains a top priority.
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