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Trail Foundation ready to proceed with Lady Bird Lake boardwalk

Thursday, November 17, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

The Trail Foundation is expected to announce today it has acquired the matching funds to build the boardwalk on Lady Bird Lake, but the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board still has some lingering concerns about its funding and design.


The $20 million boardwalk will create a biking and running path on land and over water in the 1.2-mile gap between the Austin American Statesman building and Lakeshore Park. That would finally close the intended 10-mile loop around Lady Bird Lake, which was part of the long-time vision for the man-made lake. The official name of the trail, which was recently renamed, is the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail.


When Austin voters passed bonds for the project back in 2010, it was with the understanding it would be a public-private partnership. The trails foundation was given the task of raising $3 million in private funding toward the project.


The boardwalk is a joint project between Public Works and the Parks and Recreation Department. Project Manager David Taylor updated the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board about the project on Monday night, saying the bids should be going out within the next 90 days, even before final construction permits are released.


Taylor said the early start was to take advantage of the favorable construction market and that the department was confident that it would ready to bid before the end of the current year, given that the plan is now in the revision phase. Permits likely would be issued sometime around mid-2012.


If all goes well, construction of the boardwalk would begin early next summer and be completed within 18 months, meaning it would open at the end of 2013.


In a presentation with pictures that incorporated how the bridge would look in its various segments, Taylor outlined some of the basic details: almost equal parts over land and water; concrete with galvanized hand rails; the placement of three shade devices at various exposed places on the path; creation of one restroom with the project, and an attempt to add some minimal parking at one end.


“It’s concrete on piers, and it’s intended to be made out of pieces that could be manufactured off site,” Taylor told the panel. “That means the cutting, painting and bonding on the project could go on elsewhere.”


The boardwalk would be installed in 20-foot sections that are 24 feet wide, in a single phased project. Most sections on the water will be about five to six feet above the lake, which is intended to withstand a 20-year flood event and keep outlets free of obstruction.


The sections will be bonded together, and the piers are drilled all the way down to the bedrock, which varies along the bank. Commissioner Dean Rindy did express concerns that it was not designed to withstand a 100-year flood. Chair Jim Knight agreed water flow in such a flood event would apply intense pressure on the project, possibly pulling the project segments apart.


“The flood plain was a very critical part of how we designed the project,” Taylor said. “A hundred-year flood would mean something 14 foot above the current water level and that is an unacceptable idea to virtually every person.”


Commissioner Robert Pilgrim, in particular, was concerned about the placement of parking at the end of the trail. That’s one of the more recent additions to the plan, and Pilgrim said the area set aside for parking was one where families often gather for informal soccer games.


Commissioner Brooke Bailey expressed the biggest concern: the lack of emergency call boxes along the elevated boardwalk. Taylor said such a plan was deemed too expensive and that many call boxes along the existing trail had been dismantled because of the expense of commercial phone service. Such call boxes simply exceeded the city’s budget on the project.


Taylor added that the city’s emergency services department was confident it could access the boardwalk as easily as any other portion of the lakeside trail.


“It’s not so much, yes, you could fall and break an ankle,” Bailey said. “It’s more, somebody is threatening me, and I have no place to go and no one to call. That, for me, is a huge concern.”


Knight agreed with Bailey’s objections, saying the he saw the lack of emergency call boxes to be a huge liability for the city.


“We continually hear about attacks on the trail,” Knight said. “But to be 100 feet out on the waterway at 2am? I have a lot of concern there.” (Editor’s note: it is illegal to be in the park after 10pm.)


Originally, permits on the boardwalk were expected to be released by the end of 2010. Taylor said the project team had to rework the plans to accommodate the new heritage tree ordinance and revised the plan with more energy efficient lighting elements.

This story has been corrected. It originally misidentified The Trail Foundation as “The Austin Trails Foundation.”

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