Bellmead Drive could get Main Street treatment under grant


The city of Bellmead is seeking a federal road safety grant for Bellmead Drive to reduce traffic speeds, replace the center lane with a tree-lined median and close 31 lanes.

City officials are seeking the federal Safe Streets and Highways for All grant to improve safety on a dangerous stretch of highway and help make it the core of a new downtown, said the director of the city Yost Zakhary.

The Bellmead City Council on April 9 voted unanimously to allow Zakhary to apply for the federal grant. If approved, the city's project would improve road safety on Concord Lane and Bellmead Drive, also known as Highway 84.

Vehicles move along Bellmead Drive, historically the city's main shopping street and the site of a proposed central business district.

Jerry Larson, Tribune-Herald file photo

Zakhary estimated the city could receive $6 million to $7 million from the grant, which requires a 20 percent local match. The project would improve safety and beautify about 3,200 feet of Bellmead Drive from Spur 299 to 3700 Bellmead Drive, near the approach to the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge.

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Zakhary said he put the item on the agenda to confirm the council's support for the grant application and the potential development of an area of ​​downtown Bellmead.

“I can tell you, as a general rule, it takes about a year to develop the plans, put together a survey, and then let the bids go out,” Zakhary told the council. “I think probably, if everything goes through, construction will start in 18 months to two years, realistically.”

Mukesh Kumar, director of the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization, attended the meeting and presented data from a recent citywide crash study. The study compiled crash data from January 2014 to December 2023 and found 3,878 collisions in Bellmead, of which 98 resulted in death or serious injury.

Those casualties included four auto-pedestrian crashes on Bellmead Drive.

“McLennan County is riskier than the entire state of Texas in terms of driving-related deaths, fatalities and serious injuries, and Texas is worse than the national average,” Kumar said. “Just to say that we are very dangerous on our road and these safety projects are absolutely necessary.”

The Waco MPO oversees transportation planning throughout McLennan County and is developing a Comprehensive Safety Action Plan to qualify future projects in the county for the grant.

The Waco MPO has already had success with the Safe Streets and Roads for All program. In December, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the MPO $1.2 million to pilot temporary demonstration activities in six key corridors, including near Baylor University, downtown and highways interstate

The federal grant program still has $3 billion available for road improvement projects over the next five years, Kumar said.

“Bellmead Drive, based on our analysis, came out as the most important project for Bellmead,” he said.

Bellmead Drive currently has four travel lanes and a center turn lane. Kumar said the high speeds and lane closures on Bellmead Drive cause multiple points of conflict along the road and hurt economic development.

According to the project submission, Bellmead Drive has no buffer for pedestrian areas and extensive curb cuts for driveways impair pedestrian safety and accessibility. Ample, unmarked parking occasionally interrupts sidewalks.

The grant project would address pedestrian safety, traffic speed and parking issues along Bellmead Drive. Gaps in sidewalks and pedestrian-oriented lighting would be filled, and pedestrian crossings would be installed on Hogan Lane and Ashleman Street.

Bellmead Drive 2

The proposed plan for Bellmead Drive includes reducing the width of travel lanes, replacing the center turn lane with a median and improving pedestrian accommodation.

City of Bellmead, provided

The project proposes to potentially close 31 carriageways, leaving 14 open and shared along Bellmead Drive.

The project would transform Bellmead Drive into a boulevard, replacing the center turn lane with an elevated median that would include trees and vehicle-oriented lighting, with periodic openings for left turns.

The width of each traffic lane would be reduced by one foot as a traffic calming measure. The project would install stop bars on cross streets, as well as speed feedback signs and intersection warning signs. It would also consolidate public air services to one side of the road.

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Vehicles move along Bellmead Drive, historically the city's main shopping street and the site of a proposed central business district.

Jerry Larson, Tribune-Herald file photo

1 Bellmead Drive

A sketch rendering of Bellmead Drive shows the vision for the redesign of Bellmead Drive, which city officials hope to fund through a federal Safe Street and Roads for All grant.

City of Bellmead, provided

Parking on Bellmead Drive would be re-arranged to include clearly marked ramp and parallel street parking. The bulbs would replace parking near intersections and driveways, adding more trees to the area and increasing pedestrian safety. A removable bus stop would be installed at the curb to better accommodate public transportation.

Fred Morris, Bellmead's director of community development, said the concept presented at the April 9 meeting is similar to the approach cities across the country are taking to turn expressways into streets with more economic value.

“This was a state road, as Bellmead Drive was a road, and as Bellmead grew, it became our main street with a road running through the middle,” Morris said.

Zakhary said improving road safety and beautifying the area could attract more visitors and businesses, as well as open up more opportunities for the city to fund future projects.

“I'm just trying to create an identity for a downtown district for the city long term,” Zakhary said. “I think it will give the city a whole new look.”

The next step in the process is for the Texas Department of Transportation to approve the project.


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