Area leaders are narrowing down plans to transform much of Ritchie Road from a bumpy country two-lane to a modern thoroughfare to serve a growing area.

An early projection places the cost at almost $8 million, which will be split between McLennan County and the cities of Hewitt and Waco.

“It’s very unusual, yes, for three entities to go in and, I say, work in a cooperative manner and be able to get a project out as fast as we’re talking about,” said Jim Reed, city of Waco capital improvement program manager. “It’s pretty amazing. It takes a lot of parties to get that done.”

City of Waco staff is drafting an agreement between the three entities in hopes of completing the work more efficiently than each could working separately, Reed said.

The project under review covers Ritchie Road from Panther Way to South Hewitt Drive, which crosses both cities and county-controlled areas.

Pavement along the road has a lot of distress and is starting to fail, Reed said.

Instead of spending money to rehabilitate the road, the three entities are considering a complete overhaul with a more urban feel, he said.

Plans include a curb and gutter on both sides and two lanes in each direction with the outside lanes wide enough for bicycles, he said.

A project of this magnitude involving multiple entities would normally take several years, Reed said.

He worked with the Texas Department of Transportation before joining the city of Waco two years ago. The cooperation and shared vision between the local government leaders is putting the project on the fast track, with plans to have a developed bid ready by next summer, he said.

Growing subdivisions and the associated increase in traffic have created the need for the project, he said.

School buses from Lorena and Midway regularly travel the stretch, adding to growing safety concerns.

“We’re at a very good place with all the local entities coming together and taking the limited funding we have and making big projects happen,” Reed said.

Cost estimates are preliminary, but Waco could cover about $4.8 million, and the city of Hewitt and McLennan County would cover about $2.9 million, Reed said.

Years ago, when the city of Hewitt annexed property, it took land up to the center of Ritchie Road, Hewitt City Manager Adam Miles said.

Portions of the road remain half under the city of Hewitt’s control and half under the county’s control.

“It’s a horrible road,” Miles said. “It’s in bad shape. It has and will continue to have an increased amount of traffic on it.”

More and more people are learning Ritchie Road is a good cut-through to get to the other side of town, he said.

“As you come from Woodway, Ritchie Road is a little two lane road, then there’s a turnabout at Chapel (Road), it widens out to two lanes in each direction with a boulevard. Then you get to Panther Way and currently it’s a two-lane, bumpy county road. Then you hit city limits of Hewitt, and its shoulder, two lanes, and shoulder,” Miles said. “It’s a very significant project for all of us really.”

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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