News25 Investigates


25 Investigates: Road to Fort Hood had humble beginnings

Posted at 10:02 AM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-11 16:12:02-04

BELL COUNTY, Texas — If you travel to Killeen, Copperas Cove, or further west, chances are you've driven on Interstate 14.

That freeway, which seems perpetually trapped in some kind of construction phase, will finally get the long-awaited money to not only finish it but to expand it.

However, it almost didn't happen but perseverance from Bell County made it a reality.

Currently, I-14 takes you from Belton to the Bernie Beck Gate at Fort Hood.

The road to the post makes for a vital link between Bell County and its most important economic engine.

Now, imagine if that highway could also take to you El Paso, Camp Shelby in Mississippi or even Fort Benning in Georgia. That's where the proposed expansion of I-14 may be headed.

If there's one sign of Texas growth that gets David Reed riled up, it's the traffic.

"Traffic's getting worse. Longer delays, bumper-to-bumper, short tempers, That kinda thing, but that's just life, I suppose," he said.

That's why Bell County leaders lobbied more than 20 years ago, to get a bigger road from its fastest-growing population centers to the county's biggest economic engine, Fort Hood.

"Fort Hood is the largest single economic engine in the county. I don't see that changing anytime in the foreseeable future. There are collateral benefits for having Fort Hood here," said Bell County Judge David Blackburn.

Those collateral benefits are namely businesses and jobs.

So Bell County leaders proposed re-making a portion of U.S. Highway 190 into an interstate quality to move people who lived in Temple, Troy, Salado and other east-county towns, a less-congested way to go west for economic prosperity.

At the same time, The Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition proposed a highway, that would link as many military bases as possible across the Southern United States.

Jim Reed, head of the Central Texas Council of Governments says that's how Bell County got to make its pitch.

"Each community studied what impact that would have and what design elements they might need to put in there. Ours ended up being the impetus for US 190 becoming I-14," he explained.

TxDOT released a study in 2012 on the feasibility of the bigger I-14, which found traffic had increased to the level that it needed to upgrade Highway 190, but it couldn't justify the money for an Interstate.

In the meantime, leaders found money to add on to the new Bell County Highway 190 segment.

"You know a lot of projects are stacked up to that because we did the flyover from I-35 northbound to head west out towards Killeen and we did that with stimulus dollars with TxDOT's help," said Reed.

He went on to say we can expect more spin-off spending as local and state governments add on their own projects to take advantage of what a new freeway will bring.

"A lot of those projects work together because a project of this magnitude is going to have multiple phases in multiple jurisdictions," said Reed.

Judge Blackburn who once worked in economic development and ran Bell County's two biggest cities sees bigger dollar signs for everyone.

"The economic impact of Fort Hood was $123 billion or something like that, which was up about 10% maybe more than that from the last time they did an economic report on Fort Hood," he said.

And what does David Reed of East Texas see in his future? More tail lights.

"How far am I willing to drive to go to work? I drive 30 miles from work right now, so that's what's comfortable for me. If the money's good, I'll drive a little further," he said.