Tuesday, September 23, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Walnut Creek trail progresses, despite concerns

Despite some pushback from neighborhoods, phase two of the Walnut Creek Hike and Bike Trail marches on.

Public Works Department project manager Richard Duane gave the Environmental Board an update on the project at the last meeting, after the board heard concerns about the project. Though it has faced some hurdles, the trail is now about half done with its design phase.

Duane said that, after a meeting of about 50 people, the city decided there were enough issues for it to commit to return when the project was 60 percent complete. It also promised to provide quarterly updates to stakeholders.

“A lot of people were just not interested in the connection of Northern Walnut Creek Trail into the neighborhoods,” said Duane. “That’s understandable. They thought people would be coming off the park and into their neighborhood. Unfortunately, part of the goal of the trail is to bring the communities together as part of a hike and bike trail, and as a commuter trail. So that was directly contrary to one of our goals.”

To accommodate these requests, the city did reduce the proposed 10-foot connections to the neighborhoods to 5 feet in width. Neighbors also said they were worried that people using the trails would park in their neighborhood, so the city negotiated parking with the Girl Scouts and the Walnut Creek Baptist Church.

Some stakeholders expressed concern about decreased property values around the trail. Duane said he “didn’t really know how to answer that one” and believed the construction of the trail would not negatively impact the values of nearby homes.

As part of the trail construction, the city also completed a “cricket study” of a cave located along the trail. Duane explained that although the crickets themselves are not protected, a spider that eats the crickets is.

“What we did is we tracked our crickets and saw how far they were going,” said Duane. The city then used that data to align the trail outside of the cricket foraging area, and obtained a letter of clearance from the BCCP, which was required “because of the cave and because of the spiders and because of the crickets,” said Duane.

The current design phase was scheduled to complete this December, but has been pushed back to June 2015.

“The crickets threw us back a little bit,” said Duane.

Construction will cost about $3.5 million, and its start date remains unknown. This is primarily because the city doesn’t know how it will be funded, said Duane.

Duane outlined a number of factors that the city had to negotiate and consider when building a trail, including environmental concerns, ADA standards and potential conflicts between types of trail users.

Eventually, the city hopes to continue the trail into Manor and connect with the Southern Walnut Creek Trail, which connects to the Austin-Manor Trail.

“It will be a beautiful thing,” said Duane.

Board members asked about the use of pervious concrete, bridge construction and impacts to riparian zones. In light of those questions, the board asked for a presentation on those topics. Duane explained that a presentation was normally done during the permitting process, which they were not yet in. Though he did not object to keeping the board in the loop, he said that he felt uncomfortable presenting before he had all the information on hand.

In the end, the board decided to allow a presentation when the city next meets with stakeholders, which will be when the project is at 60 percent design completion. Additionally, Environmental Officer Chuck Lesniak suggested the board could take a broader look at the issues of trail construction and how it could impact environmental features and erosion, and how the Watershed Protection applies in general.

 

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City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

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