Yolanda Trujillo, whose family has been serving Tex-Mex meals on Waco’s traffic circle the past 37 years, dislikes the new traffic lanes highway department crews applied to the historical roundabout. Others who work on the circle said they are happy with the new effort.
“On the morning they completed the striping, we saw two accidents,” Trujillo said. “Driving to work, my mother almost got blindsided by traffic entering the circle from Highway 77. Somebody is going to get killed trying to get to our restaurant. The traffic situation there has always been bad, but I think it’s worse since they painted the stripes. What were they thinking?”
Texas Department of Transportation district spokesman Ken Roberts said the goal is to create more certainty among drivers entering the circle from Valley Mills Drive, LaSalle Avenue or Highway 77, especially out-of-town visitors bound for Magnolia Table, the restaurant “Fixer Upper” stars Chip and Joanna Gaines opened in late February in the former Elite Cafe building.
“There were no markings before, but now there are,” Roberts said. “What we do is respond to the demands of the traveling public. If we see traffic increasing in an area, it is incumbent upon us to react to that. We refer to that as good engineering judgment. We don’t have exact figures on how much Magnolia Table has impacted traffic counts, but we knew they were going to rise. We will have more information in three to six months.”
A single lane now carries traffic around most of the circle, with a bypass lane that carries traffic from Highway 77 to La Salle Avenue.
A yield sign remains in place to warn Highway 77 motorists to reduce speed and use caution, Roberts said.
Trujillo suggested TxDOT make the yield sign more eye-catching to those “barreling down 77,” possibly by installing flashing lights.
“From the standpoint of speed, we can post any number, but we can’t regulate it,” Roberts said. “We are not the ones to ensure that the traveling public is adhering to the posted speed limits. If a property owner is having issues with their customers entering or leaving their driveways or property, that’s a matter for law enforcement.
“We will continue to monitor the situation to determine whether we need to enhance some of the steps we’ve already taken, or add things. We will gladly take input from the motoring public.”
Joe Moore, manager of the Health Camp burger joint on the circle, said the markings should prove helpful in the long run.
“I’ll put it this way, there were two wrecks the second day after the stripings were put in place, but there have been none since,” Moore said.
Moore said the new lanes and directional signs are likely to help people unfamiliar with the area.
“There are people wanting to try Magnolia Table who may never have encountered anything like the circle. It has become an attraction, becoming popular with people with money to spend,” he said.
The Health Camp has not seen a lot of spillover, but he has noticed people stop by for a burger when they get to Magnolia Table after it closes at 3 p.m.
“I will say this. It hasn’t hurt our business,” Moore said.
The city has been working with TxDOT to enhance the safety of Waco’s infamous intersection, the scene of 30 to 40 crashes a year, city of Waco traffic engineer Eric Gallt said.
“It has been one of the highest crash locations in the city at least 10 years,” Gallt said. “We thought something needed to be done, with Magnolia Table coming to an area already an issue with the city and state.”
The restaurant is attracting about 7,200 diners weekly, Magnolia spokesman John Marsicano, said in an email response to questions.
Gallt predicted Magnolia Table will boost traffic counts on the circle a minimum of 10 percent. The city will take a formal car count sometime in the fall, “after things have normalized following the opening of the restaurant.”
Brittinee Williams, who holds a management position at the Stripes store near Highway 77 and the circle, said she appreciates TxDOT’s efforts to make the circle a safer place to drive.
“I think the lines give people more sense of direction, especially tourists,” Williams said. “I’ve nearly had several wrecks, and I believe there were more near-collisions before the lines.”
For years, before construction of Interstate 35, shops on the circle served as a break point for travelers passing through Waco.
“When the circle was first built, back in the 1930s, there was very little in that part of town,” Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Chris Evilia said. “We would not design a circle like that today, but because of its age, it is a landmark, an important landmark at that. We need to make it work.”