First section of Northern Walnut Creek Trail now complete after decade-long stretch of work

Northern Walnut Creek Trail
After a decade of construction delays and fired contractors, city officials have closed the books on all major construction on the first section of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail in Northwest Austin. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

After a decade of construction delays and fired contractors, city officials have closed the books on all major construction on the first section of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail in Northwest Austin. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

Image description
The Northern Walnut Creek Trail, which first opened to the community in 2016, is designed for access and activities for residents of all ages and abilities. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspapers)
Image description
City officials in January officially closed out the construction of Section 1A of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail, which runs from Balcones District Park to MoPac. (Community Impact Newspaper)
After a decade of construction delays and fired contractors, city officials have closed the books on all major construction on the first section of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail in Northwest Austin.

“This has been a long project,” said Ana Seivert, the urban trails project coordinator for the Austin Public Works Department.

At a Jan. 28 presentation in front of the Austin Parks and Recreation Board, city officials declared the final closeout items on the trail to be substantially completed by the contractor.

Final work on the trail in the past year included replacing dead trees, repairing cracked sidewalk slab and addressing erosion.

“Those were warranty items under the contract,” said D’Anne Williams, project manager for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.


Northern trail development

The January declaration by city officials that work on the first phase of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail is fully completed marks the end of a decadelong stretch of work.

At the end of the Walnut Creek Trail project, one continuous, 19-mile trail will connect Balcones District Park in Northwest Austin to Govalle Neighborhood Park in East Austin.

The Southern Walnut Creek Trail runs from Govalle Neighborhood Park and stretches up to the Walnut Creek Sports Park at Johnny Morris Road and Daffan Lane. This section of trail opened in 2014 and is considered Austin’s first urban trail, according to the city’s website.

Austin City Council approved an initial design contract to build the Northern Walnut Creek Trail in 2003. The first phase of the project broke ground in 2010 after several setbacks—a contractor was let go shortly after beginning construction, according to City Council documents.

Before development of the project began, the city split construction of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail into three distinct sections.

The city in 2013 divided the first section of the trail into two phases, bisected at MoPac. Seivert said this decision came after Austin Water offered to build the trail from Balcones District Park to MoPac in conjunction with one of its projects in that area.

Community members and city officials opened the first portion of Northern Walnut Creek Trail in 2016. The first phase of the 12-foot-wide, paved trail is 3.2 miles long and runs from Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park to MoPac.

According to a presentation given to the parks board, construction on the stretch of trail from Balcones District Park to MoPac concluded in late 2018, but a one-year warranty checklist performed by the city found items that required correction from the contractor.

Several trees that were initially planted along the trail died after no supplemental watering was done. According to documents, 41 trees were replaced.

“We thought that putting trees in an existing park where they’d be accessible for contractors to water and keep healthy would be relatively easy. ... That was not the case. The contractor was not reliable,” Seivert told the parks board in January.

Problem areas in the trail’s infrastructure were additionally repaired in 2019. City documents show several cracks in the trail pavement were either filled or the cement trail panels were wholly replaced.

Erosion issues

City staff identified problems with erosion along the shoulders of the trail, according to city documents.

Erik Harris, a Milwood neighborhood resident since 1994, said this is not the first problem with trail erosion he has seen since construction began. Harris said one issue with the composition of the trail is the city’s implementation of flex base, a course material made from finely crushed rocks.

“When you run water over [flex base,] the fine material washes out of it,” Harris said. “To me, it is not sustainable, and whatever runs off of it is pollution.”

The flex base materials run off into Walnut Creek, which runs adjacent to the Northern Walnut Creek Trail, Harris asserts.

Any material that runs off into the creek may be polluting a protected habitat for a local endangered species. According to maps from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the section of Walnut Creek that runs through Balcones District Park is a critical habitat for the Jollyville Plateau salamander. The USFWS considers this species of salamander as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, according to federal documents.

Seivert said the city has already removed some of the flex base material and replaced it with soil along the trail in Balcones District Park. In other sections of the park, the city is seeing native vegetation grow through the flex base and keep the base material in place.

“We’ve seen once the seed has taken that we’ve had significantly less erosion,” Seivert told Community Impact Newspaper.

Future projects

Following the total completion of the first phase of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail, the city of Austin has its sights set on getting the next stage of trail under development soon.

The second phase will expand the trail, beginning at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, to I-35. Design work is almost complete for the project, and Seivert and Williams said the city expects to begin construction on this stage before the end of 2020. City documents show the trail is scheduled to open to the public by spring 2022.

“It is a pretty big project with four bridges,” Seivert said.

The third and final section of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail will run from I-35 to the Southern Walnut Creek Trail at Walnut Creek Sports Park. Seivert said staff just completed the preliminary engineering report on this trail to recommend a trail path, but any further work on this section will be years away.

While the engineering report was funded by 2016 Mobility Bond funds, no other funds have been set aside for the design or construction of the final phase of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail, city documents show.
By Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the editor for the Northwest Austin edition.


MOST RECENT

Nursing facilities across Texas will be able to apply for federal funds to purchase devices to connect residents to friends and family. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Gov. Greg Abbott announces $3.6 million project to connect nursing home residents to families

Gov. Greg Abbott announced May 27 that $3.6 million will be provided to nursing facilities to purchase tablets, webcams and headphones to connect residents with family members.

Amie Gonser will open 620 Art Gallery & Studio in June as a fine art gallery and space for art education classes. (Courtesy Amie Gonser)
IMPACTS ROUNDUP: News on 20 Central Texas businesses and nonprofits

Read about Central Texas business news from Community Impact Newspaper's coverage this week.

A new executive has been brought in to fill leadership roles at the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School and Dell Children’s Medical Center. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Dell Children’s Medical Center, Dell Medical School announce new addition to executive team

A new medical executive has been brought in to fill leadership roles at Dell Medical School and Dell Children’s Medical Center.

Williamson County is preparing to open to the public June 1. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Williamson County prepares to open to public June 1

As the county prepares to open its buildings, here is what you need to know.

Voters are encouraged to bring their own equipment in order to prevent catching or spreading coronavirus.(Graphic by Matthew T. Mills /Community Impact Newspaper)
State of Texas releases voter health checklist for polling stations in June and July

Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs released a checklist May 26 for voters to follow to help prevent the spread of coronavirus at polls.

The Townlake YMCA is one of the local facilities reopening June 1. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
YMCA of Austin to reopen area facilities June 1

Townlake YMCA, Southwest Family YMCA, Northwest Family YMCA, Springs Family YMCA, Bastrop YMCA and Hay Communities YMCA facilities will be reopening June 1.

Williamson County reported 19 additional confirmed cases of the coronavirus May 27.  (Community Impact staff)
Williamson County reported 19 additional confirmed cases of coronavirus May 27

So far, about 1.59% of the county population has been tested.

Austin skyline
Report: Austin lost more than 129,000 jobs between February and April

As multiple sectors of Austin’s economy temporarily closed stores to customers as part of a nationwide effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, more than 100,000 Austin jobs were lost in the process.

Austinites walk, run and bike on the Pfluger Bridge on a warm late spring afternoon. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Effort to reopen society pushed to limit in Austin over Memorial Day weekend

The holiday weekend brought a range of interpretations over Gov. Greg Abbott's permission to reopen.

The deaths bring Travis County's total fatalities during the pandemic to 88. (Community Impact staff)
Three new coronavirus deaths reported in Travis County May 26

The deaths bring Travis County's total fatalities during the pandemic to 88.

Austin-Travis County Health Authority Mark Escott gives a virtual coronavirus update to the Travis County Commissioners Court, led by interim Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe. (Courtesy Travis County)
Travis County sees renewed upward trend in recent coronavirus cases, indicating a possible second surge

Weeks after Texas loosened public health restrictions, local authorities are seeing increased COVID-19 cases in Travis County.

Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - Centennial is located in Frisco. (Courtesy Baylor Scott & White)
Baylor Scott & White Health to lay off 1,200 after reporting 'drastic drop' in visits

The layoffs represent 3% of the health system’s workforce.