City of Waco leaders were expecting excitement from bicyclists and runners when they opened the $5.4 million East Riverwalk on Friday.

What they did not anticipate, but were pleased to hear, was enthusiasm from anglers eager to try their hand at a new spot along the Brazos River, said Jonathan Cook, the city of Waco’s community promotions specialist.

The gates came down early Friday as the final construction boxes were checked, allowing visitors to use the new 0.6-mile addition along the Brazos River.

It provides the last link in a paved, lighted loop connecting Baylor University and Cameron Park along both banks of the Brazos.

“Hopefully people get out tomorrow and test it out,” Cook said Friday in anticipation football fans finding a new route to McLane Satdium.

The project came in about 200 days ahead of schedule.

Teams have worked in overdrive over the past month to get the riverwalk walkable in time for Baylor University’s home football game against the University of Texas on Saturday at 11 a.m., he said. Beating the deadline wouldn’t have been possible without coordinated efforts from the city, the Texas Department of Transportation, designers and contractors, he said.

“We all wanted to make sure and try and get it open for some of these final football games,” Cook said. “It’s a view that we haven’t had before.”

City of Waco leaders and the Texas Department of Transportation will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony at 2 p.m. Nov. 10 in the area near the parking lot of Buzzard Billy’s, 100 N. Interstate Highway 35.

“We definitely want to plug the fact we have a restaurant on the riverwalk,” Cook said.

Residents and visitors can now take a 5.5 mile continuous loop with no major street crossings along the river.

The new section of bike and pedestrian pathway stretches from McLane Stadium to the riverwalk’s old end at Franklin Avenue, crossing under several bridges and winding over the water on pillars along the way.

An 80-foot canopy covers the riverwalk as it crosses beneath an active railroad bridge. The 14-foot-wide riverwalk also crosses under the disused Cotton Belt railroad bridge.

A Federal Transportation Enhancement grant covered half the cost of the project.

“The Riverwalk is a safe, scenic path for pedestrians and cyclists, has numerous smaller loop options and will support runs and races in the downtown area,” according to a statement from the city.

Jay-Reese Contractors worked on the extension and is the same company that renovated the Washington Avenue bridge.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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