More than a decade after City Council approved an initial contract to design and build the first phase of the North Walnut Creek Trail in North Austin, construction is slated to start in March and wrap up in spring 2014.

City Council approved a construction contract Feb. 14 with Muniz Concrete & Contracting Inc. for $5.9 million for the trail, which starts in Balcones District Park near Amherst Drive and Duval Road and ends at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park. Previous trail designs included a spur to Austin Community College Northridge Campus, but that was deleted, said Richard Duane, the project manager for the city's Public Works Department.

This first phase will be 3.2 miles and include a 10-foot wide concrete trail with a 2-foot-wide grass shoulder on either side. Both parks will have a new trailhead with a large compass built in the concrete as well as some additional parking spaces.

"It will help a lot people get out to the trails with a better trailhead, more parking," said Erik Harris, a resident of the Milwood neighborhood located across the street from Balcones District Park. "It will be more accessible and hopefully safer."

Harris has lived in Milwood since 1994, and his family has used the existing nonpaved path since then. He serves as parks liaison for the Milwood Neighborhood Association and has been tracking the progress of the trail. He also met with the public works director last fall when he heard the project was going to be rebid to relay some of the neighborhood's concerns, such as the lack of cleanup from the previous contractor.

A second phase of the trail will run from the Walnut Creek park to I-35 just south of Yager Lane. The city is working on a preliminary design for that 1.7-mile portion. Duane said it will take another three to four months to finish the preliminary design.

"We look for trees, creeks, areas of concern, wetlands and such that we want to avoid," he said. "We have some pretty rigorous tree ordinances here."

Construction on the second phase likely will not start for another two years, Duane said.

On the east side, the city is about 25 percent finished with construction of the 7.3-mile Southern Walnut Creek Trail from Govalle Park to Johnny Morris Road south of Hwy. 290, he said.

"There is going to be a pretty good route for bikes, alternative routes to get downtown," he said.

In 2003, City Council approved the first contract for the design of the North Walnut Creek Trail with Larson, Burns & Smith, and council approved additional funds for the firm for design work in the years following, according to city documents.

Larson, Burns & Smith has not worked on the project since June 2011, and Duane said the city is still trying to recoup funds it paid to the firm. He said the city contracted a new firm, Encotech Inc., to redo the design of the trail.

Council previously approved a contract with Westar Construction Inc. in November 2009 for $3.2 million, according to City Council documents. Westar broke ground on construction in May 2010 but was later let go from the project.

Part of the funding for the trail will come from a $1.9 million federal grant the city was awarded in 2002 that came through the Texas Department of Transportation. City funds to match that grant were not available until 2009.

"Since the original design was started in 2002 and set aside until sufficient funding became available, some field conditions and regulatory codes had changed by the time the project was restarted in 2010," Duane said. " At that time, a decision was made to terminate the existing construction contract instead of risking multiple change orders and delays."