The Waco area’s transportation planning agency Tuesday passed a 25-year plan with focus on cycling, sidewalks and transit as well as Interstate 35 and a few other key highway projects.
The Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization policy board made it clear that widening I-35 through Waco remains its top priority.
It’s not exactly clear how that $330 million project will be funded, but local officials said the state will have to find special funding for it beyond the routine funding that the Waco area gets.
Waco City Manager Dale Fisseler, who sits on the MPO board, asked whether money from Proposition 1, the ballot initiative that created a new transportation fund, could be banked for future years of I-35 funding.
Waco MPO director Chris Evilia said the Proposition 1 program doesn’t allow that, at least for now.
Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr., also a board member, expressed frustration that the MPO’s top priority is on indefinite hold while lower-priority projects move forward.
Bobby Littlefield, Waco district director for the Texas Department of Transportation, said it is clear that I-35 is the first priority, but until major funding becomes available for it, it is best to seize the other opportunities, such as widening China Spring Road starting this year.
In an interview, Fisseler said the state needs to make a commitment soon to the I-35 project.
“What really concerns me is that the design is essentially finished,” he said. “The longer it sits on the shelf, the more work that has to be done, and the more the cost goes up.”
The Connections 2040 plan also includes a second phase of China Spring Road, a widening of State Highway 6 west of Speegleville Road and two major safety and capacity projects on Loop 340 between I-35 and Marlin Highway.
Also, the plan calls for the conversion of Franklin and Washington avenues and Fourth and Fifth streets from one-way traffic to two-way.
The long-range plan also sets an ambitious agenda for alternative transportation.
It calls for $309.5 million in new spending during the next 40 years for public transit, including the creation of a “bus rapid transit system” organized around a north-south express bus line.
The plan passed unanimously Tuesday among the MPO members, who represent area cities. The plan is not binding and can be revised, but the state will not fund projects that are not in the plan.
Evilia said only 13 people participated in the six public hearings on the plan, but the response was much better in an online participation forum known as Mindmixer.
Among 59 responders, 65 percent supported converting downtown streets to two-way traffic. Sixty percent of responders supported the bus rapid transit system, while 70 percent supported the sidewalk plan. About 40 percent supported plans for the bike network.
Waco Councilman John Kinnaird, who sits on the MPO board, said he wants the city to follow through on improving pedestrian, cycling and public transit infrastructure.
“We need to look at all modes of transportation to accommodate the city’s growth and to support a quality of life,” he said. “I think all of that fits in with Prosper Waco and our focus on downtown.”
Kinnaird said fixing decaying streets is also a high priority for him, but he hoped that the city could save money by creating sidewalks and bike lanes as streets are rebuilt.