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Tuesday, October 4

Transportation Tuesday: an update on I-35 SAMMC (finally)

Has it really been more than three whole months since our last update on the I-35 SAMMC project?

There's a lot going on, but reporting on most of it may make us sound a bit like Peter Noone, so we don't have a ton of posts going. That said, here's an extensive lineup on what's going on in the near future.

Direct connector
The new direct connector from southbound I-35 to southbound I-410 should be ready to open by mid-October. For most drivers the difference will only be minor, but it should help traffic run a bit more smoothly through the area. It'll take Lane Construction a weekend to make that traffic switch; we'll have a specific date once we are a little more sure about when it'll happen.

Once the new direct connector is open we'll have to demolish the old one - which means we'll need to shut down I-35 for a full weekend. That whole process will include setting up the area (we lay down a large bed of dirt on the road to cushion the road from falling concrete chunks), breaking up the concrete and cleaning things up. Since we'll have the highway fully closed, no doubt Lane will take advantage of an opportunity to do other work as well, thought the details of those smaller items aren't yet defined.

With the Spurs' season getting ready to tip off, we're looking at the calendar to find a weekend that will have the least impact on traffic. After all, we don't want to make LaMarcus or Pau late for any games this season.

Bottom line: the new connector should be in regular use, and the old connector demolished, by mid-November. That will open Lane up to begin work on the new northbound exit ramp to Rittiman Road, which will be ready to go early 2017.

That new ramp will actually run under the connectors between I-410 and I-35, connecting with the northbound I-35/I-410 frontage road just prior to reaching Space Center Drive. This should eliminate some of the strain on traffic coming from northbound I-410 onto northbound I-35, as the competition between that connector and the folks trying to exit Rittiman will no longer exist when we're all done here.

The other ramps
Those driving through the area have dealt with alternating ramps being closed - some long-term - since the project started back in 2013. Right now we've got about a third of the ramps in their final locations, but we've got a few key ramps closed. The folks running through here daily readily know getting to or from Eisenhower is not a ton of fun right now.

To keep all this simple, here's a list of the exit ramps closed:
Northbound exit to Eisenhower (expect to have this reopened in six months)
Southbound exit to Eisenhower (expect to have this reopened in six months)

And our on-ramps that are closed:
Northbound entrance from Eisenhower (expect to have this reopened in six months)
Southbound entrance from Eisenhower (expect to have this reopened in six months)
Southbound entrance from Rittiman (expect to have this reopened by the end of year)

Expect to also see, around the end of this month, the north-to-south turnaround at Rittiman Road close for about two months. Traffic looking to make this turnaround - particularly truck traffic, should consider turning around at Walzem instead while this turnaround is closed.

Why all these closures? In a word: widening. Most of these closures are allowing Lane to complete the widening we're doing on the main lanes, but the ramps are also being completely reconfigured. We're quite aware of the rough situation it makes for folks today, but when we're all done we're confident folks will be enjoying a much improved commute.

Oh, and the new Thousand Oaks exit ramp should be opened up and ready by the end of the year. That should open up a few other items on the far north end of the project so crews can wrap up work in one place and move on to more pressing items on our to-do list.

Overall completion
The current schedule from Lane Construction shows completion of this project to happen summer 2017.

In the interest of full disclosure, the initial project completion when we started work out here was the end of 2016, with a possibility of spilling over into 2017 by just a few weeks. Clearly that target has been missed. Why?

To start, we've faced over the last 20 months the worst construction weather ever recorded. The amount of rain we've seen has been absurd (though much needed). Those impacts have cost us at least a month over the course of all that time, including the time spent repairing potholes and other pavement failures resultant from the rain.

We've also seen some minor plan changes that have required new materials to be brought on-site last-minute. These delays have cost us maybe a month over the duration of the project.

The rest of the delay is due, for the most part, to resource allocation on the project. When the project is complete we'll sit down with the contractor to determine where the responsibility for these delays lies and, where appropriate we'll assess liquidated damages.