Salado Celebrates the Local Completion of the I-35 Expansion Project
With more than 50 people looking on and an entire town waiting in anticipation, the small town of Salado celebrated the end of a long road with the I-35 expansion ribbon-cutting Thursday, May 11, 2017. With perfect 75-degree weather, and the Salado High School band playing in the background, Salado and TxDOT officials shared the triumphant moment with the crowd.
Salado Mayor Skip Blancett led the ceremony, introducing the people who represented the integral parts of the finished product. "Whoever thought the sound of traffic would be good," a smiling Blancett said.
|Salado citizens, TxDOT officials, and other guests prepare to cut the ribbon in celebration of Salado's expanded highway and murals.|
The I-35 Expansion Project came to Salado in summer 2012. Traffic demands through the area had risen exponentially, with a boom in commercial truck traffic and regional population growth, and the need for an expansion in the I-35 corridor had come. "This portion of the corridor sees $1.3 trillion per year in commerce travel on I-35, which is the main connection from Mexico to Canada," TxDOT Director of District Operations Randy Hopmann explained. The Salado mainlane portion of the project finally wrapped up in November 2016, and the end result is an efficient, functional and, according to Hopmann, a "beautiful highway all of us can enjoy for decades to come."
To personalize the highway to the village of Salado, early in the preparation of the plans for that section of highway, TxDOT asked Mike Ford to work with the village's aesthetics committee to add a unique mural to the retaining walls at the new Salado Plaza Drive intersection. Ford, a 2013 TxDOT retiree after 23 years of employment, used his talent as a graphic artist to give areas all over Texas the artwork to make their highways more aesthetically appealing and distinct. "If you drive across Texas and see a highway mural, this is the man that designed many of them," Hopmann said in his introduction of Ford to the crowd. "He has spread his talent across many Texas communities."
|The Salado mural designed by retired TxDOT Graphic Artist Mike Ford.|
While Ford has designed many murals for communities across the state, he said something about Salado in particular made him nervous. "I was scared to death of Salado," Ford said. "I was coming into a village of artists and artisans." However, in spite of being somewhat intimidated, he took the opportunity to gain insight and opinions from the community's aesthetics committee. Ford took historical information from them to create a mural that is unique to their small town, and that describes the history and importance Salado, originally established as a stagecoach stop, has to Texas. Ford created a stagecoach mural (making sure the representation of the stage was historically correct) to symbolize a new beginning for Salado after decades of ups and downs.
|The first of two gateway monuments already on display as you enter Salado.|
More than four years of construction took its toll on the community and the I-35 project has been trying and difficult, but the endurance of the Salado community and TxDOT employees that made it possible has not gone unnoticed. "Texas is the state of boom and bust, and the Salado community is a community that keeps moving forward," said Congressman John Carter as he turned toward the new mural. "This highway is gorgeous, it improves our life, and now there will be a bright, shining light on this side of I-35 to show how Texans prosper."
In addition to the two stagecoach murals (one on each side of the highway), Salado is celebrating the completion of the first of two highway monuments, a representation of a century plant with solar lights for blossoms and the name "Salado" on the base. One is on the northbound side on the south edge of town, and a second will be installed on another site at the north end of town (on the southbound side of the highway) at the FM 2484 crossing when fundraising for it has been completed.