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Shoal Creek gap

It’s lit: Project brings long-awaited improvements to Shoal Creek Trail

Thursday, May 3, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

It took nearly 37 years, but the Shoal Creek Trail Gap Project is finally complete.

On Tuesday, the Public Works Department lifted the barricades on the short section of the trail that traces the creek on its bend from West Fifth Street to West Avenue.

It allows hikers and bikers to easily traverse the section for the first time since a deadly flood washed it out on Memorial Day in 1981.

“It’s really a transformative project when you think of connectivity and the Shoal Creek Trail,” Joanna Wolaver, executive director of the Shoal Creek Conservancy, said of the otherwise tiny infill project.

Before work began in July 2015, trail users coming from the north either had to climb a set of stairs up to West Fifth Street or brave a soggy, sandy trudge across the creek bed to West Avenue. Now cyclists and pedestrians will find a luxuriously wide pathway that extends from those stairs to an underpass beneath West as well as a new ramp up to that street.

The gap project took nine months longer than originally planned, largely due to a handful of floods that pummeled the creek in recent years.

“Anytime we would get anything over 2 inches of rain, we wouldn’t have access to the creek for weeks,” Public Works Department Project Manager Darryl Haba told the Austin Monitor.

Haba said the reinforced walls and stabilized stream banks are designed to withstand the kind of punishment Shoal Creek frequently delivers.

“What you see on top, there are significant footings and foundations below it,” he attested.

Despite the weather-related delays, the project itself came in under budget with a total cost of approximately $4.6 million. That money covered not only the new walls and pathways, but also the relocation of chilled water lines as well as a wastewater pipe stamped with the year 1935, according to Haba.

And, to a point lauded by Haba and Wolaver alike, the 0.12-mile stretch will feature new lighting along the path and underneath the two bridges that bookend it.

“It looks great at night, with the colors and all that,” Haba said.

The reopening of the gap section is the latest in an ongoing reconstitution of the lower section of the trail that has faced several construction-related disruptions in recent years. A section north of West Fifth was closed during the construction of the Shoal Creek Walk development, while construction of the Independent tower and the Central Library shut down access to lower parts of the trail.

Only the small piece adjacent to the Independent site currently remains closed. Once that skyscraper is completed and the section reopened, the Shoal Creek Trail will provide a virtually car-free path from Central Austin’s Seton Medical Center to the Roy and Ann Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail.

Wolaver’s group is currently planning a 13-mile extension of the trail to the north beyond the Domain. Meanwhile, the Public Works Department has completed a preliminary engineering study to improve the section of the trail between West 15th and West Fifth streets.

The city will hold an official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Shoal Creek Gap Project at 300 West Ave. at 10 a.m. on May 16.

Photo courtesy of Chris Riley.

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