Long overdue city project called ‘trail to nowhere’
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A 3.2 mile hike-and-bike project along North Walnut Creek has taken more twists and turns than anyone ever imagined.
The trail has been incomplete for more than 10 years as the city has struggled to finish a redesign project. Construction just got underway last summer after the project sat in its design phase for more than five years.
At least one contract dates the redesign plan as far back as 2002.
Mike Long was also among the first subcontractors on the trail.
"We had decent plans to start off with, but the plans were wrong,” Long said.
In those five years of design, the city paid local architectural firm, Larson, Burns, Smith, $750,000 to draw, redraw, revise and correct the plans multiple times. The Austin City Council just approved the latest payments this spring.
"A lot of reasons it can take that long: real estate acquisition on trails, gaining the easements and rights of trails can take awhile," Austin Public Works Director Howard Lazarus said.
However, city documents show not all property agreements were worked out prior to the project going out for bid in August 2009.
In fact, St. David's Hospital and a nearby apartment complex became aware of the project only after seeing construction workers on their properties.
"There's a lot of stream and creek crossings that weren't properly designed, some of the paths didn't meet the appropriate requirements," Lazarus said. "And there were trees out here that were right in the middle of this thing and they didn’t have them protected.”
City and state officials say the plans show trees were completely unaccounted for and portions of the trail design were not ADA compliant.
"At that time we determined it would be best to take a step back,” Lazarus said. “Do some redesigning."
The roughly $1.5 million the city has spent on the hike-and-bike trail so far amounts to several unfinished construction sites around northwest Austin.
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell admits he thought the project would have taken just two years to complete, but 11 years have already passed
"It is something that's been a high priority for a long time and it's time we got moving on it," he said.
The architectural firm Larson, Burns, Smith preferred not to comment on this story.
The city will now hire a new design firm who will spend the rest of this year redesigning the trail.
The 3.2 mile stretch is now set to be complete May 2013.