Elm Avenue will get a $3.8 million makeover that includes new sidewalks, lighting, landscaping and bike lanes, city officials learned Thursday.
The Texas Transportation Commission approved $2.8 million in federal and state transportation money for the project, which is seen as crucial to the fledgling revitalization of East Waco’s faded main street. The downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone board has already pledged $956,200 to the project.
The city also received $538,495 to help build more than 2 miles of bike lanes along the 11th and 12th street corridor from Columbus Avenue in downtown to Gurley Lane in South Waco, and sidewalks along Gurley Lane.
Twenty-two small- and mid-sized cities throughout Texas received some $25.3 million in federal funds for pedestrian and bicycle improvements.
Jim Reed, a city engineering capital program manager who oversaw the application process, said the money will go a long way toward making Waco easier to navigate without a car.
The Elm Avenue work will be a win not only for businesses along the street itself but also the surrounding neighborhoods, Reed said.
“The payoff would be that the area has been overlooked for a long time, and there’s nothing there that encourages you to travel and be a part of that historic area,” he said. “Developers are looking for a sign that the city has a vested interest in that area. … I think it’s a huge investment on the city’s part, and it’s great that the federal and state governments are going to jump in and help.”
Waco Main Street Manager Andrea Barefield, who works at City Center Waco, said Reed and other city staffers did a “phenomenal” job in snaring the grants.
She said the Elm Avenue money will amplify interest people already have in doing business on that corridor.
“It enhances what is already underway,” Barefield said. “Over the last few years, we have seen established and historic businesses take extra efforts to enhance what their businesses look like, and we’ve seen increased traffic up and down Elm. People are getting back in the swing of this historic district.”
Reed said the Elm Avenue project is more complicated because it involves replacing utilities, reconfiguring parking and creating handicap-accessible ramps to connect segments of sidewalk that are several feet higher than the roadway.
In the next year, the city will hold meetings to get public input on design details.
“There will be opportunities to have community involvement,” Reed said. “We still don’t have a good understanding of the exact scope of the project. … We’ll get the opportunity to see what locals would like to see, as far as the aesthetics of the corridor.”
The Elm Avenue project would provide concrete-and-paver sidewalks 8 to 10 feet wide, with lampposts, street trees, benches and bike racks, as well as bike lanes on both sides of the 4,000-foot project corridor, which runs from University Parks Drive to Garrison Street.
Nancy Grayson, owner of Lula Jane’s Bakery at 406 Elm Ave., was among scores of Elm property owners who pledged their support to the project application, even though she has some mixed feelings about the impact on her business.
The new sidewalk project may require Lula Jane’s to give up head-in parking on Elm Avenue, though such diagonal parking could still be offered on side streets. In addition, Grayson said she thinks antique sidewalk that’s now in front of her property will likely have to go.
“We’ll have to move our historic high curbs that were there because of horse-drawn carriages,” she said. “Progress always means compromise. … It will look lovely and will be very serviceable.”
Waco Bicycle Club President Trent Dougherty said the city worked hard with the bike club to come up with priorities for bike lane funding, and he thinks the 11th and 12th street corridor is a good place to start.
“Given that there’s more stuff developing that way with Balcones (distillery), and that it’s the edge of the (Public Improvement District), I think it’s a very natural place,” Dougherty said. “We’re trying to push out the boundaries of downtown. Hopefully someday people will see that as part of the center of downtown.”
He said both projects will help make the core of Waco more bike-friendly and vibrant.
“This is just part of an overall puzzle, of putting the parts together to have a downtown that’s truly a downtown and not just a few blocks,” he said. “Things are falling in place to make Waco a great place to live and bring up kids.”