Trail network's Phase 2 connects Sunset Valley to wildflower center

A coalition of public and private groups is preparing to build the Southwest Austin leg of the Violet Crown Trail, a 30-mile network of trails from Zilker Metropolitan Park to south of FM 967 in Hays County.

Most of the trail's first phase has been built in the Barton Creek Greenbelt, according to the Hill Country Conservancy, the nonprofit leading the project.

Phase 2 will connect the city of Sunset Valley to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, HCC Project Manager Butch Smith said.

Contractors are working on designs, engineering and environmental studies.

"We are hoping to have a ground breaking in late summer to early fall," HCC President George Cofer said.

Smith said that trail construction may begin in early 2014. He estimated that Phase 2 will cost $4 million–$5 million in public and private funds to build.

By providing multiuse trails, Austin gains greater connectivity that does not involve roads, said D'Anne Williams, city trails coordinator and landscape architect.

"Pedestrians can walk and jog safely and reach destinations without having to get in their cars and drive to a parking lot," she said.

Phases 1 and 2

To build the project, HCC has partnered with the cities of Austin and Sunset Valley, as well as the U.S. National Park Service, the Texas Department of Transportation, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department among others.

Phase 1 begins in Zilker Park and runs through the greenbelt to the Hwy. 290 access road near Brodie Lane in Sunset Valley. Trail entrances are located at Zilker Park and Hwy. 360. Five of the 6 miles of Phase 1 have been built; the trail ends near the southernmost point of the greenbelt.

Williams said HCC is seeking city approval to build a mile-long connection near Gaines Creek to reach Sunset Valley. That mile is considered part of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve, so HCC has applied for special permits.

Phase 2 will run from the Hwy. 290 access road to Circle C Ranch Metropolitan Park. A trailhead would be located at Dick Nichols Park, according to the trail's master plan.

Sunset Valley leaders approved their segment of the trail and have agreed to work with HCC on the project, City Administrator Clay Collins said.

"We have not budgeted anything specifically for it, but the project was part of the justification that was used in getting the stimulus grant funding for the granite gravel sidewalk on the north side of Hwy. 290 as well as the pedestrian crossing across Hwy. 290 at Brodie Lane," he said.

In November, Austin voters approved Proposition 12, a transportation and mobility bond measure that included $2 million to build Phase 2 of the trail.

The city and partner groups hit delays with the northern segment of Phase 2, so they split the project in half to keep moving forward.

Phase 2a

Phase 2a will run from Brodie Lane and Home Depot Boulevard in Sunset Valley to Dick Nichols Park in Austin.

In 2011, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, helped HCC secure a $325,000 transportation grant from the Federal Highway Administration to design what became Phase 2a, Cofer said.

HCC could not use the grant itself, so it gave the money to the city of Austin's Public Works Department, city Project Manager Chad Crager said.

Crager said design on Phase 2a began three months ago and is roughly 30 percent done.

He said he hopes that local engineering firm Alan Plummer Associates Inc. can begin its environmental study in July.

Work on Phase 2a is progressing more slowly than Phase 2b because the city is finalizing the trail alignment, he said. The city must get approval from its watershed department and adjacent property owners—a process Crager estimates will take six to nine months.

"For a trail like this on one hand you want to make it as enjoyable as possible. That means going through the woods and away from roads and traffic," Crager said. "When you do that, there are some environmental constraints. So we need to do an environmental report, and permitting could take longer than if we [went closer to the road]. But the end result is a much better trail."

The Violet Crown Trail will connect to existing and planned trails in Oak Hill, said Rick Perkins, vice chairman of the Oak Hill Trails Association. Some of these trails are nature paths now but may be incorporated into the city's Urban Trails System in the future, he said.

Crager estimated that Phase 2a may be completed in 2015 or 2016.

Phase 2b

Phase 2b will run from Dick Nichols Park to the wildflower center. Smith said the city reviewed the general permits for Phase 2b in late June. Local engineering firm Bury + Partners will work on Phase 2b, and construction may begin in early 2014, he said.

Cofer explained HCC still needs to secure construction permits from the city.

The city of Austin plans to build a trail linking the Violet Crown Trail to the Veloway and the Circle C trail system.

Smith said that the trail's primary users, at least in the beginning, will be local residents; recreational users may come later.

"What we're hearing is that a lot of these neighborhoods like Sendera and Deer Park want to be able to walk over to Dick Nichols Park or to the Veloway," Smith said.

"A lot of people want to go over to the Alamo Drafthouse," he continued. "What they're telling us is that they do not want to get into the cars. They want to leave their cars at home and move throughout the neighborhood."