The city of Waco appears to be stepping up its street game in 2018, with plans to spend $10 million for road improvements.

But a closer look at those plans shows that the city this year is actually taking a step back on a commitment to catch up on its declining pavement conditions, tilting the priority away from the inner-city to the growth edge.

On one hand, the $10 million slated for capital road projects in the current 2017-2018 budget year is a big step up from recent years. Four years ago, the city spent only $2 million on road projects, and it had escalated road spending to $7.9 million by last year.

But only $3.2 million of the money this year is going to the “pavement management program” the city started in 2015 in a multiyear effort to attack deteriorating streets.

Deputy City Manager Wiley Stem III said this year’s budget is not enough to stop the city from losing ground on its pavement conditions.

A high-tech pavement surveying system found in 2015 that half of the existing pavement in Waco was in “poor” condition, and the additional funding since has helped fund overlay and reclamation projects.

The council dedicated $5 million toward pavement management in 2015-16 and pledged to increase that amount to more than $10 million in future years.

But big-ticket projects intended to prepare for growth in the Ritchie Road and South Bosque areas have sapped resources from that goal. The city this year will contribute $2.8 million for the city-county project to widen Speegleville Road near Highway 84, adding $7.6 million more next year.

The city this year is also contributing $3.9 million for the extension of Ritchie Road near large new subdivisions on the border with Hewitt. Most of the money comes from certificate obligation bonds supported by current taxes.

“When you do a $4 million project at Ritchie Road, it clips your ability to do other projects,” Stem said. “It kind of cuts us off on what we need to be doing in inner Waco. We have streets in North Waco, in South Waco, in East Waco that need to be redone.

“We need to be spending $10 million to $12 million in addition to spending on large projects like Ritchie Road and Speegleville. In the next two or three years we need to spend a considerably larger amount of money on pavement management. … That’s a balance we’re going to have to find.”

The city’s proposed capital improvement plan for the next three years includes a total of $16.62 million in the Ritchie Road area for growth-related road improvements. That includes $5.4 million for Chapel Road, $3 million for Farmiller Road and $4.3 million for Warren Road.

At a city council retreat last month, Councilman John Kinnaird, whose district includes the Ritchie Road growth area, said he did not want to sacrifice existing streets for the sake of accommodating growth on the edges. Councilman Dillon Meek, who represents North Waco, said he sees pressing street needs in the inner city, including around the old Hillcrest hospital, which is up for redevelopment as a mental health facility.

Stem said this week that the retreat made it clear the city will have to find money somewhere to continue with the pavement management program. In the meantime, the city will need to stabilize existing streets.

City capital improvement manager Jim Reed said the street data the city has collected has proven invaluable in helping prevent streets from falling into such serious disrepair that they need to be reconstructed.

The city is doing one major inner-city reconstruction project this year, spending $1.3 million to rebuild a worn-out stretch of South 26th Street between Flint and Bagby Avenues.

Reed agreed that the city needs to spend $10 million to $15 million to catch up with its street needs, “but we can do a lot with $5 million.”

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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