By David Tuma
It took 36 years Belton got it done with the opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Bridge connecting Main Street with Loop 121. It was almost a lifetime effort for former City Engineer Mack Parker and former Mayor Jim Covington.
West 9th Avenue was then included on Belton’s thoroughfare plan for the bridge back in 1980. Because of the historical homes on Main Street certain parts are not as feasible for expansion. There was a plan to make the street one-way but that ended up creating controversy. Years later at 5p.m. Main Street is packed bumper to bumper.
Building the 9th Ave. Bridge became a major need at this time. The city of Belton committed $1,200,00 in 2007; The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor $200,00 in 2009; City hires Federal lobbyist in 2010 with $750,000 added; TXDOT through a trail grant $1.2 million and Killeen/temple Metropolitan Planning Organization $3,000,000.
Rev. William Hill and the African American Churches United along with cooperation of UMHB and the City of Belton were able to get the name of 9th Ave. changed to Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. in 2013. Former City Manager Jeff Holberg was on hand along with BISD School Board President Randy Pittenger.
When the project first started under Holberg Loop 121 did not exist. It is on planning stages to expand to four lanes. “This project is a dream come true for us. Only through partnerships was this project possible,” said City Manager Sam Listi.
At one point, seven former Belton Mayors voiced support for this project. With difficulties getting around Bell County this bridge is vital. Getting from Morgan’s Point Resort to Killeen in the afternoon can be an undertaking. These projects are vital to create better traffic flow in a community of 20,000 residents.
Jim Covington pushed for many projects during his time in public service. The MLK Bridge might have been the biggest. Drayton McLane, Jr. got involved and was instrumental in getting TxDOT support. “For a while there I thought I worked for the Mayor of Belton. U.S. Congressman John Carter acknowledged that Covington wore him out about the bridge.
Carter was unable to attend but Jeff Moseley, TxDOT Commissioner did attend. Moseley has been to Belton before and is familiar with the project. “The region is growing. Over 1,000 new residents a day settle in our state. Growing pains come with growth. This project is an alternative solution to widening Hwy. 317 through Belton. It is a priority for the entire region,” said Moseley.
Mack Parker might have done the most to make the project a reality. Growing up in Belton he knows just how far Belton has come in terms of importance in the area. From state of the art facilities on the UMHB campus to one of the best school districts in the state with 3,200 kids, Belton is a factor.
It took a long, long time but it got done and if you walk across the bridge it is impressive. The view and the beauty of the bridge has no rival in Bell County. Coming into Belton from Loop 121 the bridge leads to the finest football field between Waco and Austin. The drop to Nolan Creek is a long one.
“Everybody had to do their part over years of effort to make this project a reality,” said Parker.
James Construction Group built the bridge with Kasberbg, Patrick and Associates the Engineers for the MLK Bridge.
“Mack has lived and breathed this project. He gave it life,” said Listi.