Part 2 of 2 Parts (click here to read Part 1 – The Overview of the project and its design)
1. It is not a “boardwalk”. Look closely. It is an elevated concrete human highway. 14-feet wide, 6-feet above the water, up to 70 feet out from shore. Built of concrete and steel. Out over the open waters of our beautiful and naturally pristine lake/river.
2. Cheaper alternatives exist. Either fully on land, closer to land, or a combination of both. With specifications that start with the minimum specs of the existing Trail: the Hyatt Regency segment, 5 to 6 feet wide, between the First Street and Congress Avenue bridges. This CAN be built across nearly the entire 1.2 mile stretch. For far less cost. However the necessary analysis and conceptual design work has never been done. The necessary conversations have never been had.
3. The “full project cost” could actually be over $20 million. Nearly $4.3 million has already been allocated toward consultants and design over the past two years out of existing city budgets of which $2.4 million has been spent or obligated to date. Plus the $16 million more now sought for construction. All for 1.2 miles of roadway. This road should be paved with gold.
4. This project does not “complete” the trail gap. It will lead users east along the shoreline to the Longhorn Dam. That dam has a narrow and dangerous sidewalk crossing – where two strollers can barely pass each other over the Dam – alongside heavy traffic flow on Pleasant Valley Road. Clearly a “Pfluger-style” pedestrian bridge needs to be built parallel to the west side of the dam. A very expensive bridge. Then there is another “gap” on the North Shore around the former Holly Power Plant. Those segments? Not addressed.
5. The cleverly packaged and named “Boardwalk” is itself a hazardous solution for the need it is trying to fill and the improved safety it is attempting to yield. True, the existing sidewalk-based trail routing along Riverside Drive has a challenging crossing at IH-35 and some close proximity to road traffic. Interestingly, though, no ped-bike-vehicle accidents statistics have ever been produced. Folks know they must be very careful getting through there. But the 14-foot wide Boardwalk over-design intentionally promotes high-speed, two-abreast, bicycle traffic…in two directions…out over the open river waters…in direct conflict with pedestrians, strollers, wheelchairs, dog-walkers, and others who would also be on the same pathway. There is nowhere to jump out of the way of danger. There is no easy way to reach injured parties. There is no shade out in the open water.
Some folks have been asking how this project came to be? Good question. Please read on…
It was initially conceived back in 2007, when the City was flush with cash and the economy had not yet cratered. The Trail Foundation and then Mayor Will Wynn collaborated on a “study” — The Riverside Boardwalk Investment Study — with the specific purpose of finding a way to build an over-water by-pass of the ten properties along this southeast stretch of the river.
Those property-owning and neighborhood stakeholders were supposed to be intimately involved in the study and project. They never were.
Alternative routings and designs were supposed to be thoroughly vetted. They never were. The consultants dismissed them straight out of the box. Only token hearings and patent lip service have been provided to concerned citizens. However, continuous public pressure has managed to get about half of the trail route onto land now.
But the additional cost continues to be projected at $16 million. That’s how much the entire project was supposed to cost when first proposed almost three years ago — as a 100% over-water solution of concrete highway for the entire 1.2 miles. This despite half of it now being land based; shouldn’t it now cost about half as much? And this on top of the $2.4 million already sunk into the project (plus an additional $1.86 million allocated). A lot of voodoo math going on here.
Lower cost on-land solutions were initially said to be desired. Sadly, such alternatives were never properly and fully vetted from the get-go. This was never even considered a logical starting point for the Boardwalk drivers. No designs of this type have ever been produced. No clear vision from a mixed on-land and/or adjacent-to-land goal have ever been championed by anyone associated with the leadership of this project.
Seeing an opportunity to advance the inter-modal bicycle transportation cause (very different from “recreational cycling” on the existing Trail), the Texas Bicycle Coalition jumped in to support the project. They helped expand the width to 14-feet so that two bicycles riding side-by-side could pass each other in both directions.
So there are two large and influential coalitions politically backing this plan. Where are all the environmental groups and naturalists on this issue? Where are the rowing clubs? Where are the taxpayers who think that $20+ million for a mile of roadway is a bad investment? They are unaware. When you hear “Boardwalk” you automatically think “Aww, that’s nice…and cheap.”
This has basically been a single-agenda, railroaded quest since inception with no Council direction or leadership to first and foremost find better and lower cost alternative solutions starting with the working specs of the existing trail. Again, the City checkbook was wide open in 2007/early-2008 and the only plan to be pursued — this one — has been the only true focus of work and nearly $4.3 million of dedicated spending allocations to date.
Regardless of the noble desire to extend the Lady Bird Lake Trail along the waterfront, this is not the correct solution. And this has not been the correct process by which to study, evaluate, investigate and converse about how to achieve the best possible solution, at the lowest possible cost, and with the least impact on the natural beauty of the river itself.
It’s as simple as this: DON’T PAVE OUR LAKE.
1. I am an affected waterfront property owner (Riverwalk Condominiums).
2. I am an avid trail walker, bicycle rider and river user (kayak and canoe).
3. I very much support all the several further extensions of the trail that still need to be done.
4. I am very much in favor of fully exploring on-land and adjacent-to-land lower cost solutions that exist, including at my property and the other private properties being by-passed. Have been since the beginning. The City refuses to go there.
5. I am absolutely opposed to the “boardwalk” solution proposed for the reasons stated, plus many more sub-reasons that can be provided.
Note: The opinions of this author do not necessarily reflect those of the Downtown Austin Blog management or other Authors.