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Trail completion plan moves forward despite uncertain funding

Thursday, June 24, 2010 by Laurel Chesky

With no guarantees that voters will pay for it, the City of Austin nevertheless indicated it was moving forward Tuesday with plans for a hike-and-bike trail looping Lady Bird Lake. A proposed boardwalk built over the water would complete the 10-mile trail running along both sides of the lake.


David Taylor from the city’s Public Works Department delivered an update on the boardwalk proposal at Tuesday’s Parks and Recreation Board meeting. Final design approval and permitting, he said, are expected to wrap up this year.


“Construction could start as early as summer of next year,” Taylor said.


The city’s plan for the boardwalk involves a 1.1-mile ribbon of 14-foot-wide decking built atop concrete piers, extending just east of Congress Avenue to Lakeshore Park. Most of the boardwalk would sit above the lake about 25 feet offshore. In some places, the boardwalk would reconnect with the shoreline. In others, it would extend up to 70 feet offshore. The deck would be raised four feet off the water’s surface to allow wildlife, canoers, and kayakers to pass underneath.


The design navigates around 1,000 trees and treads lightly in environmentally sensitive marshes, Taylor said. And the design enables accessibility for special-needs users in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Shade structures and rest areas along the boardwalk, trail access points, lighting, interpretive signage, and a bathroom complete the design.


The Trail Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and improving the hike-and-bike trail, spearheaded the project. In 2007, City Council approved funding for preliminary design and engineering. The Parks and Recreation Department now leads the project with support from the Public Works and Transportation departments.


“The completion of the trail … is critical for Austin,” said Susan Rankin, executive director of the Trail Foundation. The trail, she noted, hosts about 1.5 million visits a year. “It’s the hub of the hub-and-spoke system of trails in Austin.”


The boardwalk would circumvent a trail gap that extends along the southern shore from Austin American-Statesman property to Lakeshore Park. The gap forces walkers, joggers, and cyclists onto Riverside Drive and over I-35 to continue following the trail. It has long been considered unsightly as well as dangerous to users.


However, voters will ultimately decide the boardwalk’s fate. The current draft of a city transportation bond measure slated for the November ballot earmarks $16 million for the boardwalk project. The Trail Foundation estimated the cost at $15 million and has pledged to raise $3 million for it, potentially lowering the city’s investment.


Griffin Davis, a member and past president of the Trail Foundation, said he has fielded a lot of questions and concern over the price tag for a one-mile strip length of trail. But to put it in perspective, he says, the 700-foot-long Pfluger Bridge cost $8 million to build. Pfluger Bridge is the pedestrian pathway crossing Lady Bird Lake parallel to Lamar Boulevard


 “This is not some incredibly expensive piece of civic infrastructure,” Davis said.

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