A stretch of Lake Shore Drive notorious for deadly wrecks is in line for a $380,000 project to keep cars from skidding off a curve.
City and state transportation officials plan to rebuild the southbound lane between the Mount Carmel Treatment Plant and Koehne Park in 2017, banking the curve inward and using road material that will improve drainage.
A federal safety grant is paying for most of the work.
The project will build up a 6-inch “superelevation” toward the outside of the road to offset the centrifugal forces that tend to send cars flying into the guardrail, city engineering director Octavio Garza said.
The road is so dangerous when wet that city officials closed it several times this spring during heavy rain days.
Garza said the project will use a technology called “permeable friction course asphalt” to reduce standing water during storms. Instead of puddling on the surface, water can penetrate the top 2 inches of roadway and drain away to the side.
“It helps a lot in removing sheets of water. It helps with friction and preventing rooster-tailing,” he said, referring to the spray that comes off a vehicle’s back tires when the road is wet.
Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said he has stopped using that stretch of Lake Shore Drive.
“I used to but I quit,” Duncan said. “It really is not safe. I’m not worried about what I do but about what other drivers do. It’s really been noticeable the number of cars I or someone in my family has seen fishtailing down that hill.”
The Waco City Council last week approved an agreement to contribute some $122,500 toward the project, which includes engineering and environmental assessment. The rest will come from the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program and the Texas Department of Transportation, which will bid the project out to contractors.
Garza said TxDOT originally proposed to do the project in 2019 but bumped it up to 2017 at the city’s request.
In the meantime, the city has stopped closing the roadway during storms. Garza said that’s because it has installed a new safety measure: A permanent digital speed limit sign that informs motorists how fast they are traveling. He said the sign appears to have helped reduce wrecks this year.
Garza said the city also is evaluating some intersection changes at Lake Shore Drive and Mount Carmel Drive that might improve safety and visibility.
The safety measures were recommended by consultants working on a $510,000 engineering study of Lake Shore Drive’s geology and safety issues.
The roadway is carved out of a limestone and shale slope that drops down to Lake Waco. Geologists say the entire slope is in danger of a deep-seated failure that could destroy Lake Shore Drive.
The study suggests the risk could be mitigated by driving “soil nails” or metal anchors at numerous points along the slope to pin the layers of soil and rock to bedrock some 20 to 30 feet down, Garza said. Another safety measure would be to install drains in the soil to keep it from becoming too wet.
“I’m kind of relieved that we do have options,” Garza said.
He said the consultant team observed that when Lake Shore Drive closed because of weather, it created traffic issues in the neighborhoods nearby. That confirmed Lake Shore Drive is an important cross-town transportation artery, not just a scenic drive along the lake.
“Part of the study is looking at the economic impact of Lake Shore Drive,” Garza said. “If we lost Lake Shore Drive or had a catastrophic slide and had to reroute traffic, what impact would it have? Can we close Lake Shore Drive? What is the impact on surrounding neighborhoods? . . . We found that closing it voluntarily is not going to be an option.”
As part of the study, the city and consultants also have been talking with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to trim or remove trees that have grown up to block the view of Lake Waco from Lake Shore Drive.
“To me, it’s one of the most beautiful drives in Waco,” Garza said.