IH-35 overpass to be widened under current standards


News Reporter
The Yarrington Road bridge is expected to be opened May 2016, which will alleviate traffic.

Drivers in Central Texas will soon see bridge installations and renovations along Interstate Highway 35 (IH-35).

The Yarrington Road bridge reconstruction project will cost $12.2 million. The new bridge is expected to be opened May 2016.

The bridge will be broadened to prepare for driver needs in coming years, said Chris Bishop, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) public information officer.

“The bridge itself used to be just two lanes, and we’re expanding it and broadening it to not only meet the current traffic demand, which was above and beyond what it was designed for, but also to make it handle traffic for the future,” Bishop said.

Widening the bridge at Yarrington Road would help alleviate traffic by encouraging drivers to opt out of using IH-35 altogether, said Ning Zou, City of San Marcos transportation engineering manager. Drivers would instead take Highway 80 to Yarrington Road.

Zou said the interchange lanes from Aquarena Springs Drive to IH-35 helped relieve traffic between San Marcos and Austin.

TxDOT receives $230 million annually from the Highway Bridge Program (HBP). The program was established in 1978 to provide for the repair and replacement of on- and off-system highway bridges, according to a TxDOT brochure.

HBP was absorbed into the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) in 2012, said Nancy Singer, U.S. Department of Transportation public affairs contact. The act provides $4 billion annually to each state.

Singer said some states re-appropriate funds to manage projects tailored to local needs, so combining the programs was a logical move.

MAP-21 was passed to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Bishop said some commercial trucks are heavier and taller than the ones bridges were built to support.

“(We are) meeting newer and current standards, which would be allowing for greater clearance,” Bishop said.

Current clearance standards average 16 feet at any given bridge’s highest point to accommodate trucks carrying bulky cargo such as shipping containers, construction machinery and mobile homes, Bishop said.

Some trucks exceed the updated clearance standard. As a result, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) provides permits for high capacity vehicles, Bishop said.

“The DMV, like us, keeps track of bridges and low points,” he said.  “They keep track of the safe ways for vehicles to travel, they look at the various restrictions that are on roads and they provide the routing for a trucking company.”

One trucker ignored the TxDMV’s routing information and collided with an IH-35 support beam March 27, killing a man and injuring three others, Bishop said.

“In that particular incident, the vehicle that struck the bridge did not have a legally required permit to carry an over-height load,” said Adam Shaivitz, TxDMV media contact.

Drivers who violate regulations may have their permits revoked or incur fines, Shaivitz said.

Standard highway bridges are not designed to handle truck collisions at key structural points. Bishop said TxDOT officials pay attention to bridge integrity.

TxDOT officials inspect bridges in Texas every two years, Bishop said. Older bridges deemed “functionally obsolete” are inspected annually. The bridges incur traffic levels they were not designed to sustain.

“With the inspection, they not only determine the physical condition of the bridge but its ability to continue to be used safely,” Bishop said.

Bridges that do not pass inspections are closed as soon as possible, he said.

“Safety is our number-one priority, followed by mobility,” Bishop said. “By building bridges to a higher standard, literally and figuratively, we can make the transit through there safer for everybody.”