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Environmental Board backs variances for Walnut Creek Trail

Thursday, May 26, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Environmental Board weighed in on the ongoing construction of the Walnut Creek Hike and Bike Trail last week, unanimously approving environmental variances for the middle section of the trail.

 

When completed, the Walnut Creek Trail will be 16 miles long, and run from Daffan Lane and Johnny Morris Road to Govalle Park in East Austin, roughly following Walnut Creek.

 

“The aim right now in the planning stages is to get it to the Colorado River, and once we do that part of the strategy for land acquisition is to acquire land along the Colorado that takes you into downtown,” said Chris Yanez, with the Parks and Recreation Department. “So essentially, it is a goal to try and get you into downtown off of that particular segment.”

 

The 10-foot-wide middle section of the trail will pass through five different watersheds: Boggy Creek, Fort Branch, Tannehill Branch, Walnut Creek, and Decker Creek.

 

The city found three different critical environmental features on the trail, all of them wetlands. The trail crosses the 50-foot buffer of the wetlands at two points. To mitigate, they will plant one acre of native species plants for every acre disturbed.

 

One portion of the trail crosses wetland directly, and the trail will be elevated into a boardwalk at that point, to limit the effect on the area.

 

The Environmental Board also granted variances which allow cut and fill for bridge and culvert construction and construction in a Critical Water Quality Zone.

 

The project is expected to cost $10 million for design and construction, $8 million of which came from a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation. City Council voted to accept the grant in 2006.

 

“What we’re looking to do is advertise and bid this summer, and we expect construction will begin late fall to early 2012,” said Frank Del Castillo, Project Manager at MWM Design Group. “We think that it will take 18 months.”

 

“This being a seven-mile-long corridor, we did encounter several heritage trees; however we are not requiring any variances. We just wanted to let you know that several areas, in our design approach we intentionally stayed away from heritage trees. However, in some instances there really wasn’t much we could do but go near them,” said Del Castillo.

 

“We actually worked with the City of Austin arborist staff in order to come up with a modified typical section in this area so that we can reduce the impact to these trees,” said Del Castillo. Board Members recommend the variances, and took time to praise the commuter bike path in advance of their vote. Chair Mary Gay Maxwell thanked the designers, calling it “a great project.”

 

“I think that it’s fantastic,” said Board Member Bob Anderson. “It would be wonderful if we could get a report in the future . . . about the bike system that is going to be included in this project, and enlarged some way.”

 

Board Member James Schissler was absent.

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