Ritchie Road has been transformed in recent years with nearly $12 million of widening work funded by three of the four local jurisdictions it passes through.
But in Woodway, where the road crosses Old McGregor Road, motorists at morning and evening peak times can expect a delay of about two minutes and lines of cars 45 deep heading toward Highway 84.
Driving north from the booming neighborhoods in Waco and Hewitt, motorists see Ritchie shrink from four lanes to two as it approaches Woodway.
It completely loses its shoulders at the Woodway city limits and continues that way for about three-quarters of a mile until it reaches Old McGregor Road.
Woodway officials say most of that traffic comes from outside Woodway. City Manager Shawn Oubre said any effort to widen Woodway’s remaining two-lane stretch should have buy-in from the cities where the traffic comes from.
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Waco officials, including City Manager Bradley Ford, said they have been in talks with Woodway and McLennan County officials about working on Old McGregor between Hewitt Drive and Ritchie Road, another two-lane stretch without shoulders.
In interviews this week they said they would be open to expanding talks to also include Woodway’s portion of Ritchie Road.
“In my time on council, I have met with city of Woodway and McLennan County officials to discuss working together on upgrading Old McGregor Road between Hewitt Drive and Ritchie Road,” said District 3 Waco Council Member Josh Borderud, who represents that area of Waco.
“That section of Old McGregor is currently maintained by the county and Woodway. I would welcome continuing those conversations to include Woodway’s portion of Ritchie Road as well, given the high volume of residents of all three entities that regularly use that stretch of road.”
The city of Waco in the mid-2010s expanded 1.4 miles of Ritchie Road to four lanes, from Panther Way to the Woodway limits at the Cotton Belt railroad bridge, with a federal earmark from then-Congressman Chet Edwards paying for half the $4.8 million cost. Woodway officials opted out of participating in that project, saying it was not a high priority for their residents.
Between 2018 and 2020, Waco, Hewitt and McLennan County collaborated on a $6.9 million project to widen Ritchie to four lanes between Panther Way and the southern end of Hewitt Drive. That stretch runs through all three of those jurisdictions, which includes giant new subdivisions such as Park Meadows, as well as the Midway Independent School District’s new Park Hill Elementary School.
Ritchie Road parallels the busy Hewitt Drive, offering an alternative route even as hundreds of new homes have been built along Ritchie, with hundreds more expected.
Woodway officials said they are aware of bottleneck in their jurisdiction, but they have not started work on design, right-of-way acquisition or utility relocations to upgrade the road, Oubre said.
“To do all of that, I think it would be fair for a partnership between the city where the developments are that the drivers come from, and Woodway,” Oubre said.
Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Mukesh Kumar, whose organization plans transportation projects countywide, knows about the stop sign at Ritchie and Old McGregor roads.
“Oh yes. Many, many people complain about that stop sign and how long the lines get there at mornings and evenings,” Kumar said.
Recent observations show the lines at the stop sign grow to more than a dozen by 7 a.m., growing to about 45 northbound vehicles around 7:30 a.m., then dipping to fewer than 20 by 7:50 a.m.
A similar pattern occurs from about 5:45 p.m. to 6:50 p.m., with a peak around 6:30 p.m.
The lines there in the early mornings and evenings are not lost on Woodway city staff, Oubre said.
“We are aware of the lines,” Oubre said. “But if the cars in the lines come from subdivisions in other cities, why should Woodway taxpayers pay for all the costs to widen that stretch of road, even the part that’s entirely inside our city limits?”
When contacted for a response to Oubre’s remark about the cities where the Ritchie Road drivers live, Waco City Manager Ford said he looks forward to continued discussions on road and mobility improvements in the the area around Ritchie Road, the fastest-growing area in Greater Waco.
“The city of Waco often improves roads that benefit drivers from Waco and other cities,” Ford said by email. “It is part of being a steward of regional growth in an area where multiple boundaries adjoin each other, like the West Waco area. Future projects like the $30m+ Texas Central Parkway or Chapel Road come immediately to mind.”
Jim Reed, capital improvement program manager with the city of Waco, also said he would be willing to “talk shop” with all surrounding cities and collaborate on grant-funded improvements to roads that connect them.
At least a half-dozen residential subdivisions have been built out or are under construction or undergoing review along the Waco and Hewitt portions of Ritchie Road.
Ritchie Road is a location to serve the routine travel needs of about half the 16,500 residents of Hewitt, said Hewitt Assistant City Manager Jim Devlin.
As more families move into the Hewitt and Waco subdivisions, traffic will grow on Ritchie Road, potentially including the intersection at Old McGregor, Devin said. Drivers may also use Panther Way, Chapel Road, Old McGregor or other streets to get to Hewitt Drive as they go to work, school, errands and recreation.
The recent widening of Ritchie Road from Panther Way to Hewitt Drive was intended to relieve traffic on Hewitt Drive, Reed said. Waco, Hewitt and McLennan County paid a combined $6.9 million for the project, built by Big Creek Construction Ltd. Lorena.
A Texas Department of Transportation online data tools show 2022 traffic counts of 28,500 cars on Hewitt Drive south of Highway 84.
From 2015 to 2017, before the Ritchie Road widening project, sensors at that location showed around 30,000 to 30,600 cars per day.
Along the two-lane stretch of Ritchie Road, the sensors showed an average of 2,900 cars per day in 2015 before the widening project and 3,900 cars per day in 2020 after the widening project.
A comprehensive travel survey expected in 2025 will give more insight, MPO Director Kumar said. The comprehensive surveys are typically conducted once every five years, but there was no survey in 2020 because fewer people were driving amid pandemic-related measures.
“Without a comprehensive travel survey, we cannot truly say whether Ritchie Road is relieving traffic congestion along Hewitt Drive,” Kumar said.