More than 200 projects are up for consideration for the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 25-year transportation plan, but the MPO and its boards will be sorting through the “maybe” pile for several months before any goals are set in stone.
The public is still invited to weigh in. While the Metropolitan Transportation Plan is meant to outline the Waco area’s future transportation needs, only projects in the plan that score high enough during an evaluation process would receive funding. MPO will complete a final draft of the plan sometime in the fall.
MPO Director Chris Evilia said while some candidate projects are new, others have been considered for decades. One project calls for a road connecting China Spring to Interstate 35 at Ross, and another calls for an extension of Farm-to-Market Road 2837, also known as Rosenthal Parkway, to Riesel.
“That was actually on our original 1965 transportation plan, as well as the corresponding one to the south,” Evilia said of the two projects. “There are folks who are interested in that.”
The proposals would each require a bridge over the Brazos River, adding to their overall cost. In the past, models have consistently shown those roads would not carry much traffic, but with the county’s population growth, that could change.
“It has never previously scored high enough to make it into the fiscally constrained list,” Evilia said. “But, folks have asked that it be considered again, so we’re going to run it back through the process and see how it scores.”
Other candidate projects would widen main roadways through Hewitt, Woodway and McGregor. Those parts of the county that have experienced significant economic development and population growth in the last few years, and MPO’s data show those areas will only continue to grow.
“Of course, those roads were never meant for that kind of growth,” Evilia said.
By contrast, the plan recommends lane reductions, also called road diets, throughout downtown Waco. Evilia said those recommendations stem in part from last year’s MPO study on the 17th-18th-19th street corridor, which revealed that people frequently speed through the area.
“We’re going to take a look at that,” Evilia said. “The thing is, we don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot and take away capacity we’re going to need later on.”
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Evilia said the wide footprint and lack of traffic gives drivers an unintentional visual queue to speed. In addition, Fourth Street, Fifth Street and Franklin Avenue could be converted entirely into two-way streets. The city is already moving forward with a project to convert Washington Avenue to a two-way street through downtown.
The MPO’s policy board reviewed the mass of proposed road, rail and public transit projects during a meeting Thursday, just one step in a long process that will involve reviewing, ranking and choosing which projects to pursue.
MPO Senior Planner Chelsea Phlegar said the Active Transportation Plan, which focuses on pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and has already been drafted, will tie into the overall Metropolitan Transportation Plan. The Active Transportation Plan initially started as a section of the general plan, but the MPO decided to zero in on active transportation in a separate study.
“It’s still going to be a section of the plan, just super abbreviated, and the bulk of it will be separate,” Phlegar said.
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Active transportation projects may be included in the overall plan, depending on how they score, and active transportation concerns could be addressed alongside bigger road projects, she said. For example, work on existing streets could include new sidewalks and bike lanes if the project and funding allow.
“Whether it’s a standalone project or whether it’s changing the overall objective of how we look at roadway projects, that would be the plan,” Phlegar said. “But, we haven’t written it all yet.”
The MPO is still seeking public opinions on the plan and will send representatives to community events in the lead-up to its completion in the fall. Comments can be emailed to email@example.com or mailed to P.O. Box 2570, Waco TX, 76702-2570. More information on the plan is available at waco-texas.com/cms-mpo.