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Waller Creek panel stresses keeping project on timeline

Monday, June 2, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

The Waller Creek Citizens Advisory Committee, the group vitally interested in the development along the downtown creek, has stressed the need to keep the work below ground and above ground on parallel paths and timeline.

Approximately 100 people attended a Waller Creek workshop at the University of Texas in April, but the bulk of the discussion focused on the schematics of the outlet and inlet, considering issues such as water velocity, debris collection and the configuration of the inlet at Waterloo Park.

That feedback was instrumental in the negotiations between the city and the Parks Board, which recently took up the issue of the inlet and outlet issues. The next step in the progression toward the $125 million tunnel will be a Chapter 26 parks hearing before Council, which will finalize some of the details on issues such as easements and the revised Waterloo Park layout.

Parkland hearings at Council are tentatively scheduled for June 18 and July 24.

Already, revisions to the plan have led to the deletion of the pump in the boathouse on Lady Bird Lake, which will be used by the Rowing Club. At a briefing last week, Public Works Project Manager Gary Jackson said that the purchase and installation of the pump would be too expensive and. Instead, a contractor will be used to pump and clear the tunnel on the infrequent occasions it might be needed.

Jackson did not offer the committee a figure on how much the removing the pump from the project might mean, although he called it “significant.” Other aspects of the Waller Creek tunnel project will likely absorb those savings.

The boathouse, near the shore of Lady Bird Lake outlet, will be located in the flood plain. The first floor will be use for boat storage – which is located next door to the Four Seasons Hotel right now in a large metal shed – and the second floor, which is out of the flood plain, will be used for the Rowing Club’s offices.

Committee members passed a resolution last Thursday night supporting the general concept and direction of the tunnel in light of the recent community feedback.

Committee member Jean Mather raised the flag on the parallel direction of the above ground and below ground plans. As it currently stands, the two are scheduled in tandem. The master plan for the banks of Waller Creek should be ready about the time the engineering plans are completed on the tunnel, Jackson said.

“The overall concept is headed in the right direction, but there’s no funding yet for the goodies that were promised us with this tunnel,” said Mather. “I do not want to pass this resolution until the whole development of the trail system and all would be adhered to in the plan.”

Committee members did have some discussion about that issue. Council recently picked ROMA Design for the $425,000 design off the bank master plan. At last week’s briefing, Water and Wastewater Assistant Director Joe Pantalion noted that the funding for the tunnel came from a dedicated source: the tax-increment finance district and any additional support from the city.

“So we have no idea what funds are going to be raised?” Mather asked. 

Urban Officer Jim Robertson described the master plan as an inventory of the Waller Creek planning area, an assessment of what improvements might be necessary and then some sort of gap analysis that will address what the final plan might cost. The city’s investment likely will be in various types of infrastructure, including trails.

“It would be up to Council then to really identify funding sources, whether to direct the future CIP budget or suggest some other means of accomplishing funding,” Robertson said. “Our planning process cannot commit the city to funding sources, potential sources or potential strategies.”

Pantalion agreed but said that it was still early to designate a source of funding for the bank work. Two to three years from now, it will be more apparent how actual revenues from the TIF compare to the estimate. Development and amenities, along with available funding, likely will drive the source of “bank” funds.

In its resolution, the committee supported the current conceptual proposal for the tunnel but said they also wanted Council to seek the design and funding sources on the master plan in the next two to three years.

Even as the focus has been below ground, the majority of the committee members will be concerned with what will eventually goes above ground. Planning Commissioner Saundra Kirk, for instance, wanted to know if interim development standards were necessary to keep the market going in the direction while the master plan’s vision was being crafted.

Mather and Ted Siff, as well as Jeb Boyt, certainly will be looking over the city’s shoulder when it comes to trails. Trail connectivity up and down the bank was a major issue raised during an initial presentation by the Austin Parks Foundation.

Finalizing the tunnel engineering and finishing the master plan likely will occur at roughly the same time: sometime in 2010.

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