Clearing the way for new urban trails

Groups say projects need to secure permits before construction begins

By Joe Olivieri

Area civic groups say they still have a long road ahead of them before they can open new trails in Southwest Austin.

In October the city of Austin hired Halff Associates Inc. to begin preliminary engineering on the 5-mile Y to Barton Creek Trail, or YBC Trail. If built, the trail would connect the future MoPac pedestrian bridge to other trails in Oak Hill.

Leaders of Oak Hill Trails Association, the group working on the project, said they need to finalize the trail route, get formal support from adjacent property owners and raise money before construction can begin.

Nonprofit Hill Country Conservancy is working with the city on permitting issues for the Violet Crown Trail, HCC Executive Director George Cofer said. When finished, phases 1 and 2 of the trail would connect Zilker Park to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. HCC hopes to break ground on a segment of the trail in late spring to early summer 2015, Cofer said.

When it comes time to start planning new trails, public and private groups refer to the city's new Urban Trails Master Plan for guidance.

Approved in September, the master plan establishes trail-building standards, prioritizes projects and includes every existing and proposed pathway in Austin, said Nadia Barrera, the city's urban trails program manager.

"Now there's a one-stop shop for what the city sees as its vision [for trails]," she said.

YBC Trail

OHTA hopes to split the proposed YBC Trail in segments so pieces of the project can move forward, OHTA Vice Chairman Rick Perkins said.

The trail would begin at the under-construction MoPac pedestrian bridge, cross over MoPac and continue south along the frontage road toward Southwest Parkway.

The trail would veer into the woods but remain no more than 50 feet away from Southwest Parkway, Perkins said.

The trail would cross under Southwest Parkway and connect to Vega Avenue. Perkins said he hoped that segment could be built first because it has the potential to connect to several roads and properties.

From Vega Avenue, the trail would connect to the AMD campus before reaching the Austin Community College Pinnacle campus.

A developer gave OHTA $25,000 to build the YBC Trail, Perkins said.

Many property owners near the proposed trail have already given their informal support to build it, Perkins said.

"The biggest opportunity trails will provide will be safe corridors for people of all ages to move around Oak Hill," OHTA Secretary Tom Thayer said.

Violet Crown Trail

Phase 1 of the Violet Crown Trail will connect Zilker Park to the city of Sunset Valley. Cofer said he hopes the final piece of Phase 1, connecting the Barton Creek Greenbelt to Sunset Valley, would break ground in late spring to early summer.

Cofer said the HCC hopes to get a construction permit from the city this year.

Barrera said design and preliminary engineering work are underway.

Phase 2 would connect Sunset Valley to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It is expected to be an urban trail and may be funded through transportation and mobility bond funds, a federal transportation grant and collaborations between the HCC and the Public Works Department.

The HCC is working with the city's Public Works and Watershed Protection departments on that phase of the trail.

Urban Trails Master Plan

The Urban Trails Master Plan is part of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, which outlines the city's principles and desires for future growth.

The trails plan defines the urban trail network as a citywide network of multiuse pathways that are used by bicyclists, walkers and runners for both transportation and recreation purposes.

Urban trails may have signs, adequate width for multiple users to pass one another and all-weather surface material for the trail itself, according to the plan.

Thirty of the city's roughly 300 miles of trails could be called urban trails "because they serve both a transportation and recreational purpose," the plan states.

The plan identifies 47 miles of Tier 1, or high-priority, trails; the Urban Trails Program estimates it may take 10 to 25 years to build those trails. Implementation is based on funding, environmental constraints, and stakeholder and resident input.

Once funding is identified, a preliminary engineering report process begins, according to the plan. Public meetings are held, and then the design process begins. After design is completed, construction can begin.

Tier 2 trails may be undertaken in partnership with other agencies, nonprofits, private development or with re-development efforts," the plan states. Tier 2 routes are conceptual and have not been approved.

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