Hewitt-area leaders hope to secure a state grant and improve a Hewitt Drive intersection that serves as a popular pedestrian route to Midway Middle School and Midway High School.

The Hewitt City Council is submitting an application to the Texas Department of Transportation for a grant of about $500,000 and has received vocal support from Midway Independent School District for the project at Panther Way and Hewitt Drive. The Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization, local interest group Mothers of Midway, and state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, are also supporting the city’s bid for the grant.

Mayor Travis Bailey said the city always hopes to receive grants to support its work to improve the community.

“We put our name in the hat and hope for the best,” Bailey said. “It would be nice to have, and we’ve had a couple little minor accidents there.”

In a widely publicized incident in October 2015, an SUV turning left from Panther Way to Hewitt Drive struck Midway crossing guard Debra Richter as Richter pushed a child to safety. The student wasn’t injured, but the SUV knocked Richter to the ground, dragged her a bit, and came to a stop with its right front tire on top of her left leg.

“The student and crossing guard have fully recovered from the accident, but it is imperative that improvements are made to avoid future incidents,” Anderson wrote in a letter of support for the grant. “The plan outlined by the city’s application would specifically address the safety concerns that have been expressed to me by local constituents.”

Peak traffic

The intersection experiences peak vehicle and pedestrian traffic while students are going to and from school, City Manager Adam Miles said. The intersection is a primary crossing point for Midway Middle School students and Midway High School students, Miles said.

Local TxDOT officials recently expanded the school zone and made other minor improvements to the area.

But the pedestrian crossing is not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The proposed project would make the intersection fully accessible and add spots for pedestrians to wait for a cross signal, according to the proposal. The project would also add sidewalks in front of the middle school and make connections across sidewalk gaps along Panther Way.

“It is important to note there is other pedestrian traffic crossing F.M. 1695 (Hewitt Drive),” the application states. “EMSI is primarily a low-income employer. Their call facility is located at this immediate intersection.

“Likewise, residents of the adjacent Brookside Apartment complex use this crossing to get to the convenience store and other nearby businesses via this intersection. Some residents of the Brookside Apartment complex work across F.M. 1695 (Hewitt Drive) at EMSI.”

The project is expected to cost $575,579. If the grant is approved, the local match would be about $53,000.

Miles said he won’t know until August or September if the city will receive the grant.

TxDOT controls farm-to-market roads, including Hewitt Drive, so the city can’t move forward with work on the intersection on its own, Bailey said.

“The money’s there, and somebody’s going to get it,” Bailey said. “Why not us?”

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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