Monday, March 30, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy

Open Space panel urges better communication

At its first official meeting, the Council Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee urged city departments to keep residents better informed of changes to the Walnut Creek Hike and Bike Trail.

Parks and Recreation Department project manager Marty Stump gave the committee an update Wednesday, sitting adjacent to a handful of angry neighbors who said that, when work stopped, crews left part of the trail in dangerous disarray and residents hadn’t been given accurate completion dates for the phases of the project.

Stump focused on the first phase of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail project, which is extending the trail from Balcones District Park to Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park. Delays have plagued construction of these 3 miles of trail, Stump said. After the city ended its agreement with the original contractor, it took nearly two years to get the project back up and running with another contractor at the helm.

“The project had to be engineered, re-permitted and actually rebid in order to bring a new contractor on board,” said Stump. “It has been a challenging project.”

City Council Member Leslie Pool, the committee’s chair, asked city staff if they had informed neighbors of the delays. Keri Burchard-Juarez, assistant director of the Public Works Department, defended the department’s communication. She said city staff went to neighborhood meetings and sent updates via an email distribution list.

“I know that there were definitely feelings that we could have done a better job than that, and we certainly want to do better and … communicate more,” said Burchard-Juarez.

Neighbors said they were told that after several delays, the first phase would be finished by October 2016. However, at the meeting Wednesday, city staff said they would be finished building the first part of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail by January 2016. Residents said they were confused about why officials have sped up the timeline, and why they were just learning about the new completion date.

Pool encouraged city staff and residents to figure out a better way of communicating — particularly outside of the Council committee meeting. City staff’s trail update pushed Wednesday’s meeting to the full three hours allotted for it.

“What I’d like to suggest is that I will meet further with the neighborhoods involved,” said Pool. “I’d like to see if we can have a plan going forward — you know, increased communications and maybe face-to-face meetings, and a walk-through on the site and some discussion of specific aspects of the trail that I think were not planned in the way that the neighborhood had expected them to (be).”

The city said the design of the second phase of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail should be complete by June 2015.

Photo from the City of Austin website

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