As more and more people in Waco are walking to get around town, the city is applying for grant funding to get its sidewalk network up to speed.
Waco’s Public Works Department is pursuing 12 federal transportation grants for nine infrastructure projects that center on pedestrian safety. Capital Improvements Program manager Jim Reed said six fall under the US Department of Transportation’s Safe Route to School program, and six fall under the department’s Transportation Alternatives program.
“What we’re doing right now is chasing letters and trying to do research,” Reed said. “You hate to see it, but when someone gets injured, that just reinforces where you need some safety measures.”
The city recently was turned down for a Texas Department of Transportation grant to make pedestrian safety improvements at Park Lake Drive and North 19th Street, where two pedestrians were killed last year. It is among the areas the city is again seeking a grant for in this new round of applications.
Other proposals include sidewalk and safety projects near Midway and Waco ISD schools, along with projects for areas that see heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic but lack continuous sidewalks.
“We need to create gathering places outside of the core motor thoroughfare, and that’s what we don’t have,” Reed said.
Safe Route to School grants would cover the full project costs, while Transportation Alternative grants would require a 20% match from the city.
Reed is pursuing nine projects with the 12 grant applications, and two for two grants that would pay for campuswide improvements at J.H. Hines Elementary School, Cesar Chavez Middle School and Indian Spring Middle School are high priority, he said.
The grants would fund safety measures including striping, signs and signals but prioritize sidewalks and trails. While some of the area surrounding those schools have sidewalks, Reed said many of the sidewalks are narrow, outdated and in poor condition.
“They really want to see infrastructure improvements,” Reed said. “Some of it would be putting in sidewalks where maybe right now, we just have a cattle path. But a lot of it is pulling up existing sidewalks that have deteriorated.”
One of the largest projects would convert a former railroad right of way in East Waco into a 12-foot-wide paved trail extending to Loop 340, complete with lighting, benches and trail heads with parking, Reed said. The $3.5 million project would require drainage improvements, and the first phase of work would run from the intersection of Dallas Street and Waco Drive to Gholson Road, he said.
“The way we bought the property, even though some of it is in Bellmead and some of it is in Lacy Lakeview, was with the condition that we turn it into a sort of rails-to-trails opportunity,” Reed said. “We wouldn’t be allowed to develop is as anything other than that.”
A Mars Drive project that has been in the works since 2014 is also up for a grant. The two-lane road has been in disrepair for some time, and heavy traffic and congestion around Midway High School and Midway Middle School poses a hazard to students trying to get to school on foot.
“We’re trying to create a link between Woodgate Intermediate School that ties to the middle school and high school,” Reed said.
Reed said there have been about seven auto-pedestrian collisions in the area since 2012, many involving students. The plans for Mars Drive include a traffic signal at Old Hewitt Drive and Mars Drive, where police officers now direct traffic every morning during the school year, in addition to rehabbing the worn road.
“Mars Drive is something we realize needs to be done,” Reed said. “The problem we have is that if we just go out there and do a pavement job, it has to last 20 years. The bond money we use has to last 20 years, so it didn’t make sense for us to do a pavement job, then rip it up and do a capacity project.”
The project that would update the Park Lake and 19th Street intersection has been dubbed the Cedar Ridge Neighborhood Trail, would create a wide trail on one side of 19th Street and a sidewalk on the other to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchairs and scooters.
“We’re just trying to create at least a thoroughfare through there that allows pedestrians to move along that corridor from 19th Street all the way to College Drive,” Reed said. “We see people walking in the road, and it’s very high speeds.”
Residents at retirement communities in the area commonly travel by foot or electric scooter, he said.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a traditional trail by any means, but it will allow scooters,” Reed said.
Reed said the department is now waiting on finalized applications from TxDOT, working with the schools involved and collecting support letters required for the applications.
He said letters from Waco residents relaying personal experiences with the areas in question are ideal. Anyone, including businesses, property owners, citizens, biking or walking enthusiasts, can write in to show their support.
“They know why the projects are needed or not needed, and we want to hear their stories,” Reed said. “A lot of people ask, ‘Can I have a template?’ And that’s not really what we want. It needs to be more heartfelt. Do we need it? If you get it, will you use it?”
Reed said the process started in February with a preliminary application phase. The Safe Route to School applications are due in August, and the Transportation Alternative applications are due in October. Letters can be sent to JimR@wacotx.gov.