By Katie Grovatt, Reporter
Waco has made huge progress this past year, according to local leaders at the fourth annual State of the City address earlier this month.
The cities main goal throughout the year has been to improve the prospect of Waco and McLennan County. Waco mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. and McLennan County judge Scott Felton spoke of continuous successes throughout the year in increasing attendance and overall allure of the city.
In June, the city debuted a LED lighting system in the new twin bridges on Interstate 35 by McLane Stadium. The lights can be turned any color, and they light up the Brazos River creating a sparkling welcome to those that embark into the city. The bridges light up green and gold on Baylor game days.
The LED lights coincided with the initiative to make Baylor game days more appealing to the public. Many community businesses have supplied free downtown parking, and the city has launched a free Gameday shuttle to transport riders from the ALICO building to the stadium. Waco Parks and Recreation Department has also added signs and additional lighting to enhance the downtown river walk pathway to the stadium.
Duncan said that the first two game days have been a success. But the city urges the public to continue to support the downtown businesses that are making much of the downtown charm possible on game days.
“We need you to come and support our downtown merchants, we need them to thrive,” Duncan said.
Felton also spoke of the initiatives being worked on throughout McLennan County. A newly improved Rural Transit District was launched in July and is anticipated to be a huge success. The goal was to better serve the transit needs of rural McLennan County.
The rural shuttle could potentially help many Baylor students that commute from outside the city limits. It will offer ridership to students, workers, people running errands, or those who need medical help such as scheduled dialysis appointments.
“We hope to be able to be all over this county with rural transportation, and we think that people with all different needs will be able to utilize this source,” Felton said.
Felton also highlighted road fix ups, widening of roads, and shoulder inclusions along the highways in McLennan County. He stressed safety as the primary motivation for these improvements. A new McLennan county website has also been developed and launched this past month.
Not all Baylor students may be aware of all these particular improvements throughout the city, but they are beginning to realize Waco is becoming a more enticing place.
Dallas junior Caroline Cochran remembers what the city used to be like.
“My freshman year, a lot of students were pretty negative about Waco. Most people would commute outside the city on weekends because there was never much to do,” Cochran said. “With the new stadium, the charming bridge lights, event the downtown farmer’s market, Waco is becoming more and more not only a place I want to be, but a place that people travel to, visit and enjoy.”
The improvement is expected to continue. The current draft of the Comprehensive Plan was implemented last month and it focuses on sustainability. It emphasizes growth within the city with the goal that it will remain financially and environmentally sustainable throughout several decades.
Duncan said it was one of the biggest initiatives that the city has been focusing on for the better part of three years. He said that city representatives have determined specific areas of change, but it’s going to take some time to figure out the best way to create more sustainable policies that will promote growth within the city.
The city council, planning council and planning staff have spent a great deal of time modifying policies, and determining what growth looks like and what growth costs in order to pinpoint certain areas to revise in their City Plan.
“It’s going to take some time, there is a long period of time to talk about this with the public, and there are several public hearings,” Duncan said encouraging the public to read the plan and supply city representatives with feedback.
“There are lots of opportunities to hear from you about what you think of it, and we want to hear from you, so please take the opportunity and read the plan,” Duncan said.
The city also currently has a surplus of $5 million in the city budget that it plans to use to improve the streets and to create a Street Repair budget.
Mayor Duncan said most of the improvements around Waco are because of the great leadership and hearts the city has had this past year.
“They are the most important part of city government, because we can lay pipes and pave streets, but we really don’t have anything to offer if we don’t have good people at the end of the line,” Duncan said.