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Hike-and-bike trail projects under way

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 by Charles Boisseau

For six months, runners and walkers will take a detour on the north shore of Lady Bird Lake’s Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail as workers try to keep a narrow stretch of the lake from washing away.

 

Austin city officials on Tuesday gave reporters an on-site overview of a $1 million project to stabilize the erosion that is eating into a manmade peninsula where Shoal Creek meets the Colorado River.

 

The project was the first of two announced Tuesday concerning improvements to the heavily used trail. Later in the day, officials with the city’s Public Works Department announced construction was in “full swing” on the $21.7 million project to build a boardwalk on the south and eastern part of the trail where workers are beginning to fill a 1.2-mile gap in the trail. Completion of that project, included in a bond proposal voters approved in 2010, is expected in 2014.

 

Meanwhile on the north side of the lake, Morgan Byars, a civil engineer and a manager of the city’s stream stabilization program, showed how the manmade peninsula, at its narrowest point, has lost about half of its 50-to-60 feet in width in the past 20 or 30 years. Without efforts to shore up the banks, parts of this narrow stretch would disappear in 10 or fewer years, he estimated.

 

“We’re slowly losing the Shoal Creek Peninsula,” Byars told In Fact Daily as dozens of runners and walkers passed on the trail in a very light rain.

 

To fix the problem, City Council agreed to pay up to $1.07 million to Austin-based Forsythe Brothers Infrastructure to stabilize and restore the shoreline using limestone boulders and native plantings. Improvements also are slated for the hike and bike trail itself as part of the six-month-long project. The Watershed Protection Department will pay for the project out of its budget.

 

Austinites are invited to learn more about the project during a meet the contractor meeting scheduled at 6pm tonight at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road.

 

The city built the peninsula in the 1960s to improve the quality of the water for use by the nearby Green Water Treatment, which has since been demolished. Though the peninsula is no longer necessary for that purpose, the city didn’t seriously consider removing it because of the expense and because the feature has become an integral part of this approximately 1,000-foot section of the trail, said Byars, who noted that feedback at a public meeting was virtually unanimous to shore up the peninsula.

 

During construction, users heading west will detour from the trail just before a foot bridge to travel a higher unofficial path along Cesar Chavez Street, a familiar alternative used when the lower portion of the trail floods, Byars said. 

 

Susan Plettman Rankin, executive director of The Trail Foundation, told In Fact Daily that her organization supports the project not only because it will stabilize the trail but because the city will use native materials to beautify a section of the trail that has become hard-beaten earth.

 

“If you go out there you’ll see the peninsula is clearly failing,” Rankin said. “Overall, it’s going to be great and allows for natural riparian plantings.”

 

Rankin added: “It’s fantastic that Watershed Protection has the money to do this.”

 

The Trail Foundation is a nonprofit Austin organization founded in 2003 to protect and enhance the Lady Bird Lake trail. The group, which has 2,600 donors, has privately funded numerous trailhead improvements and spearheaded the boardwalk project by completing a 2007 study that outlined the issues in filling in the 1.2-mile gap in the otherwise 10.1-mile trail. The entire trail stretches from the MoPac bridge on the west to Longhorn Dam on the east, except for the gap from roughly the Austin American-Statesman to Lakeshore Drive east of Interstate 35. The foundation also is financing a portion of the cost of building the boardwalk.

 

To build the overwater portions of the boardwalk trail, the city’s contractor, Jay-Reece Contractors, will use a variety of heavy equipment, including a large work barge, a service barge and several powerboats. The contractor has built a work dock and staging area in International Shores (or Lakeshore) Park and will begin installing piers this week. Work will progress westward toward Interstate 35.

 

“For safety reasons, we’re asking the public to stay at least 200 feet away from the barges and equipment,” David Taylor, the city’s project manager, said in a written statement.

 

Though no one has accurately measured how many people use the largely crushed-granite trail, Rankin said the best guess is from 3,000 to 15,000 people a day, depending on the weather and other factors. Folks at one time bandied about an estimate of 1.5 million users a year, but Rankin said she couldn’t vouch for that.

 

For maps and more information on the Shoal Creek project, see this city website. For more information on the boardwalk project see this page.

 

Email Charles Boisseau with comments and news tips at charles@charlesboisseau.com.

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