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Boardwalk trail moves forward despite some opposition

Friday, October 16, 2009 by John Davidson

For more than a year, the city has been seeking input from residents about the Boardwalk Trail at Lady Bird Lake, a project that would close the eastern gap of the hike and bike trail around the lake with more than a mile of raised concrete boardwalk over portions of the lake and shoreline.


On Thursday, City Council got even more input from city residents—most of it in opposition—even as it approved $590,000 to pay for additional design costs.


In March 2008, the city hired local design firm Carter & Burgess on a $1.4 million contract to design the boardwalk. Since its approval, the route of the boardwalk has changed based on public input and community pressure to locate more of the trail on land. Although the design changes will mean less of the boardwalk will be built over water, which in theory means it will be less expensive to build, the changes have also required additional surveying, environmental impact studies and more complex designs.


Although city staff maintained that the design phase of the project is still within its projected budget of just over $2 million, some lakefront residents are staunchly opposed to the project because of what they claim are ballooning costs.


Steve Tittle, a property owner at 1818 Lakeshore Blvd., complained to City Council that the current plan “ignores many land-based solutions that would most certainly be less costly,” adding that the public has not had an adequate opportunity to review the proposed design plans.


Fred Schmidt, a self-proclaimed representative of the “Don’t Pave Our Lake” Coalition, said that he and other residents along Lady Bird Lake‘s south shore “are obviously very much in support of the trail as active users, but are very much opposed to the remaining over-water concrete road segments as the best or right solution for Austin and our crown-jewel river.”


Schmidt implored the Mayor and City Council to slow the process down to allow more public scrutiny and consider alternate means of extending the trail that do not involve building a “massively invasive, 14-foot-wide, elevated concrete road out into the open waters of the river.”


Schmidt and Tittle argued that putting more of the trail over land should reduce overall costs of the project, a charge to which city staff replied that many portions of the trail that are now to be built over land are nevertheless located over wetlands or steep slopes and therefore more costly to design and build than simply laying down a gravel path.


Susan Rankin, Executive Director of the Town Lake Trail Foundation, told City Council that the additional design costs are a result of “constructive citizen input,” and that the boardwalk is “an important transportation and recreation project,” that needs to move forward in order not to miss “federal funding opportunities.”


Mayor Lee Leffingwell echoed those sentiments, saying the city has already applied for federal stimulus funding to build the boardwalk. One of the requirements for the funding, he said, is that such projects be shovel-ready, “and of course they can’t be shovel-ready unless they’re designed.”

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