Strong progress on the East Riverwalk between Franklin Avenue and McLane Stadium has city officials hoping it will open by the end of the year — maybe even before the end of Baylor University’s football season.

Jay-Reese Contractor has until the end of May 2018 to finish the $5.7 million bike-pedestrian project, most of which will be elevated more than 10 feet above the Brazos River.

But the contractor has already installed all of the piers and most of the concrete decking for the 0.6-mile trail. Work begins this month to install railing and lighting for the project, along with a shade structure for an overlook at the midpoint. A section between the railroad bridges is also awaiting decking.

Senior park planner Tom Balk said it’s likely that the project will be completed in this calendar year. In fact, he’s hoping Baylor fans will be able to walk to the Bears’ last home game of the football season on Nov. 18.

“It’s possible,” he said. “That’s what we’re pushing for. We want to get to a point where we can say it’s likely, but I’d say it’s a strong possibility. … This (construction) team has been very organized, and they really have been finding ways to make the construction sequencing go smoothly.”

No one would be happier with that timeline than Diane Nowlin, managing partner of Buzzard Billy’s. The new trail passes right by the dining deck of the Cajun restaurant, and Nowlin is hoping it will bring new traffic and visibility.

“I think it’s going to be amazing, because it connects Buzzard Billy’s not only to the stadium but to downtown,” she said.

east riverwalk

Buzzard Billy's patrons get an upclose view of East Riverwalk construction. The trail will connect the Suspension Bridge to McLane Stadium.

Nowlin and her fellow investors bought the longtime Waco restaurant in January and have worked with Pura Vida to open a paddleboard concession. Now they are planning to expand the restaurant with a large deck addition that can be enclosed in inclement weather.

Nowlin said customers have already been traversing the rough ground under the Interstate 35 river bridges to walk to McLane Stadium, but the new lighted, landscaped trail will be much more inviting.

The East Riverwalk has proven to be the most difficult and expensive of the river trails to build because of its geology, Balk said. Engineers decided to elevate most of the trail because the riverbank is steep, unstable and flood-prone.

Those challenges added about $1 million upfront to the project, which was funded jointly by the city and a $2.7 million Texas Department of Transportation grant.

East riverwalk

Work continues on the East Riverwalk, which bends along the east bank of the Brazos River. The trail will connect the Suspension Bridge to McLane Stadium.

Even after construction began, the project team had to make a design change on a section near the railroad bridges that was to have been at grade. The ground turned out to be unstable, and that section had to be turned into a bridge at an added cost of about $50,000.

Another hurdle occurred early on in the project this spring, when a crane that had been delivered to the east riverbank slid into the water.

“That was a difficult omen to endure early on, but it hasn’t precipitated this being a snakebit project,” Balk said. “What we have is a very organized contractor that has done many challenging projects in the past.”

East riverwalk

Work continues on the East Riverwalk, which bends along the east bank of the Brazos River. The trail will connect the Suspension Bridge to McLane Stadium.

Jay-Reese has done several river-oriented structures, including a footbridge on Lady Bird Lake in Austin and the renovation of the Washington Avenue bridge in Waco, and that experience has served the firm well, Balk said.

“I think it gives some different perspective, especially looking back toward downtown,” he said. “It will open up some views that haven’t been experienced before, and the elevation will be an interesting aspect to that. At some spots you’ll have trees overhanging the trail, with cattails down below. It’s going to be a pretty sinuous corridor with lots of potential for running and walking.”

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J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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