The Waco City Council signaled its support Tuesday for converting Washington Avenue into a two-way street from North Fifth Street to North 18th Street.
The project could get underway as soon as this summer, city capital improvement manager Jim Reed said.
The project has been years in the works, and the council’s collective verbal support accelerated a plan that would convert four lanes and a parallel parking lane to one lane going each direction, parallel parking on both sides and a two-way bike lane on one side protected by a raised median.
City leaders are looking to align the project with its pavement management program, which calls for a $250,000 upgrade. City traffic engineering manager Eric Gallt said the city will seek $250,000 for the raised median from the downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone board, which manages a fund of downtown property taxes to promote development. The city council has final say on TIF board recommendations.
Gallt said the travel on Washington Avenue from Fifth Street to 18th Street would take no more than 30 seconds longer than it does now.
“The traffic will feel like it’s more congested,” he said. “In reality, we’re not going to see a reduction in that traffic time, but it will feel more congested. That will be good in some ways for business, that congested feel is great for businesses, and attracts more businesses.”
Gallt said the stretch of Washington Avenue sees about 3,000 vehicles per day, compared to a capacity of 35,000 cars per day. Franklin Avenue, from Fourth to Sixth streets sees about 7,500 vehicles per day, he said.
Public meetings have shown 90 percent approval of the conversion, Gallt said. Some of the concerns included worries of increased traffic there during the upcoming Interstate 35 expansion and a possible reduction in parking.
Gallt said studies have shown the stretch will not see extra traffic during interstate construction, and the loss of parking spaces will be minimal.
City staff also plans to pursue funding for sidewalk improvements.
“If we’re going to be redoing the street, this might be a really good time to have a plan in place for those sidewalks,” said Dillon Meek, the councilman who represents the area. “From a funding perspective, I think TIF could really be a great pot to explore.”
Officials have also considered converting Franklin Avenue to a two-way street, and it is set to be resurfaced in 2020. Gallt said the city would hold public input sessions about Franklin this spring.
A two-way Franklin Avenue would be a key cross-town corridor in a proposed overhaul of Waco’s bus transit system, which will be considered during talks in the spring, Gallt said.
“With the growth of our city, I think that this plan will serve us well,” District 1 Councilwoman Andrea J. Barefield said. “The work that I did (as former manager of Main Street Program), that was a tremendous issue for our business owners, and as we grow and develop downtown and encourage retail and restaurants and all of those things to come into our core city, these types of projects have to happen because we have to make it easy for people to get there.”