As part of an effort to make downtown friendlier to businesses and pedestrians, the Waco City Council approved a plan Tuesday to convert Washington Avenue into a two-way street.
The unanimous approval of the ordinance, which the council is expected to finalize at its next meeting March 19, calls for Washington Avenue, from North Fifth Street to North 18th Street, to allow for two-way traffic after 62 years as a one-way street.
The work, expected to start this summer, follows at least four years of discussions and public meetings.
“I think that this is one step closer to a goal that we’ve had for years to ensure that businesses and retail and restaurants can thrive,” said Councilman Dillon Meek, whose district includes the area. “And I’m excited for the businesses who have long advocated for this conversion to experience what I hope is greater success.”
The council unanimously approved another ordinance that will convert two blocks of Ninth Street, from Washington Avenue to Franklin Avenue, into a two-way street.
Kate Duncan, the owner of the clothing store Wildland Supply Co. in the 700 block of Washington Ave., said she has been fighting for the conversion since she and her husband bought the building in 2015.
“If they go through with the plan that includes a bike lane, I think it’ll just be a lot more of a pedestrian-friendly street, but then not as cramped as an Austin Avenue,” Duncan said. “I think it’ll really do great things for the street.”
In December, the council signaled support for the conversion, which will be funded from traffic signal modernization money in the pavement management program, and possibly from tax increment funds, according to the city. It will cost about $250,000.
The proposal will convert four lanes and a parallel parking lane into one lane going each direction with parallel parking on both sides, and a two-way bike lane separated by a raised median on one side.
The stretch has been one-way since 1957. At the time, City Engineer R.T. Gregory wrote a column in the Tribune-Herald saying traffic needed to be sped up and congestion cleared.
The city council has also considered proposals to convert Franklin Avenue to two-way traffic. Downtown property owner David Lacy has been an outspoken opponent of converting either road to two-way traffic.
BU Founders Medal
Baylor University President Linda Livingstone presented the Baylor Founders Medal to city leadership. The school has awarded the honor to supporters annually since 1969.
Baylor and the city have partnered on projects including Waco Hall, McLane Stadium, the Lake Waco Wetlands, the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative, the Waco Mammoth National Monument, the Baylor University Shuttle, the Waco Symphony Orchestra and Start Up Waco.
“We are so appreciative for a century, almost, of partnership and collaboration, and we look forward to all the good work we’re going to do for the city and the region in the years ahead,” Livingstone said.
Mayor Kyle Deaver, who received undergraduate and law degrees from Baylor, said he is equally appreciative of Baylor for its role in Waco.
Past recipients have included Drayton McLane Jr., Jane Meyer, Mary Russell McCall and Ted and Sue Getterman.
TIF money approved
The council showed initial approval for a proposal that would use about $7.4 million from the downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone for improvements associated with the a full-service Embassy Suites hotel slated for South Second Street.
A second vote is necessary to finalize the transaction, which will include a 308-space parking garage adjacent to the hotel. There will be 141 public spaces in the garage.
The development will stand on the site of Downtown 301 Events Center, which will be demolished soon. The TIF board recommended the deal last month.