Part 1 of 2 Parts – The Overview
If you browsed the Austin American-Statesman or Austin Business Journal yesterday, no doubt you saw the headlines:
At first glance, it might sound like an appealing proposition, this Boardwalk project. What’s not to like?
The term “boardwalk” itself conjures up images of a pretty little wooden footbridge traversing burbling creeks and meandering through soggy sections of beautiful dense forest. It’s a project of the Parks Department, and we all do love our parks, yes?
Finding a way to “extend” Downtown Austin’s wonderful riverfront hike-bike path through one of the sections where it currently follows a narrow sidewalk along a busy road, Riverside Drive — well, that sounds like a no-brainer, too, right? At least to those of us who frequent the Town Lake Trail multiple times a week.
(Sidenote for those of you paying attention: City Council changed the name of the urban portion of the river from Town Lake to Lady Bird Lake after the former First Lady and Trail Founder passed away in 2007. The name of “the simple walking path along the shore” that she envisioned back in 1971 is still called the Town Lake Trail in Parks Department materials. Hard to tell what to properly call it.)
And $85 million, though it’s a big number for a still-sluggish economic recovery, nevertheless is a comparatively small chunk of change when you apply that spend against a truckload of “transportation projects”. Concrete and asphalt don’t come cheap.
To find the serious problems in this equation I’m afraid there’s no substitute for having to dive into the details. As with so many of life’s problems and issues, that’s where the devil is hiding. Let’s take a look.
First off there’s the topline math. $16 million for a single project — one that is a luxury add and carries no financial ROI with it — out of a total $85 million bonding capacity. That’s almost one-fifth of the total ask! For just one project. According to the ABJ story, the Transportation Department and the Bond Review Task Force were charged with evaluating 500 projects that had to be divided into “A,” “B” and “C” categories.
The “A” list of “highest priority” projects added up to about 45 and still carried an estimated total cost between $2 billion and $3 billion, three to four times the total bonding capacity. Somehow the Boardwalk, in its totality, made it to the further shortened list of “A” projects left standing. What about the other 480 or so projects? What about all the other regions of the city and their transportation, sidewalk, pothole and trail needs?
Then there is the matter of the Boardwalk project itself. While it hasn’t been an entirely secretive endeavor, its details have been less than well publicized or understood by the broad Austin citizenry, that’s for sure. For the past three years, this project has been marching its determined way through the city conceptual and design process, rubber-stamped by two unanimous city councils every step of the way, and fueled by almost $4.3 million in dedicated allocations out of the past couple city budgets. For the past year, that’s been a reported spend rate of about $40,000 per week for consultants, plans and documentation.
Next let’s check out this purported Boardwalk and find out what it’s really made of using the City’s own slides from its presentation decks. The following pictures are quite self-explanatory.
How can this be?
There are no boards in this boardwalk!
The entire battleship structure is made of concrete and steel!
And it’s out IN the friggin’ river!
And that, friends, is how we end up with something like THIS rather than the “simple walking path along the shore” that Lady Bird Johnson had sought.
Can’t help but wonder: what would she think of all this?
Though about a year out of date now, what information the city has provided on this project can be found here. There is some bare bones stuff there about the proposed routing, construction materials and answers to about 20 FAQs. Check it out.