As the Waco Transit System creeps closer to securing federal money for an overhaul of its bus service, officials also are making a contingency plan for other bus system improvements.

Waco Transit is ready to get preliminary engineering work started for a Bus Rapid Transit system that would reorganize bus routes around a central cross-town line, replacing the current hub-and-spoke layout and cutting passenger travel times. The city unveiled plans for the Bus Rapid Transit system in 2014 and last year received a go-ahead from the Federal Transit Administration to apply for federal funding.

Officials have said the estimated $77 million project likely would use Franklin Avenue and Highway 84 as the central line from Woodway to Lacy Lakeview, with neighborhood routes branching off.

The next step in the process is for Waco Transit to hire a firm, through a request for proposal process, that can perform a preliminary engineering study, said Joseph Dvorsky, Waco Transit’s director of service development.

“What we need is someone who’s done this before, because we want to do this right,” Dvorsky said. “We want that experience and insight.”

Preliminary engineering work should wrap up late next year, and Waco Transit would start gathering public input about that time, Dvorsky said. The engineering work will guide exactly how much money Waco Transit requests. Final designs could be ready by summer 2021, though the timeline is tentative, he said.

“After that, we would turn that in to FTA (the Federal Transit Administration),” Dvorsky said. “When we turn that in to FTA, there’s no going back. This is a very crucial piece of the whole puzzle.”

If the Federal Transit Administration does not fund the project, the city likely would apply again in a year or two. Regardless, the city has to plan ahead for both possibilities. The Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization will team up with Waco Transit to conduct a study on the rest of the bus system, MPO Director Chris Evilia said.

“There will be two alternatives,” Evilia said. “One assumes BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) is funded and it’s going to happen. The other is nope, it turns out it didn’t. So how do we handle both those situations?”

A redesign of the transit system, regardless of whether the rapid transit line is put in place, is one of the many recommendations outlined in the newest draft of the MPO’s transportation plan.

Evilia said the MPO study will start about six months before the design and engineering study for Bus Rapid Transit is complete.

“The idea is to have both of those finishing up at approximately the same time, because that’s something that the FTA is going to be looking at when we apply for grant funds to build the BRT,” Evilia said.

He said even disregarding Bus Rapid Transit plans, the current system is not addressing residents’ needs as well as it could.

“A big priority for our transit system is to figure out how to get folks who are transit-dependent to essential services and to jobs and opportunities,” Evilia said. “One way or another, we have to redesign the system to make a better connection there.”

Evilia said in a lot of cases, people who depend on public transit are living in areas that are farthest from essential services. One recommendation in the MPO plan, regardless of whether the Bus Rapid Transit system is in play, would be to add lines connecting the core to Waco to outlying areas, including McGregor and China Spring, both of which have seen recent economic growth, he said.

“It would probably only be a peak hours service, a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon, that would connect up with the BRT once it got to the urbanized center, but it would have to be a separate service,” Evilia said. “It’s just too far.”

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