Tunnel Project ending, Waller Creek to go natural, no riverwalk

A major milestone for Austin's 147-million dollar Waller Creek Tunnel Project. It’s been plagued with set-backs, including a major re-design and a decision not to build a river-walk concept.

The view of what was Waterloo Park has been blocked by a large construction fence, topped with razor-wire, for about 4 years now. From a higher vantage point you can see how construction crews are still working on the main structure inside the fence line. Gary Jackson, manager for the Waller Creek Tunnel Project, expects work to wrap up on the main pump house and a debris removal system by mid-Summer. He admits, from the beginning, it’s been a challenge

"We have had all of the above. You know when you start planning for projects like this, you plan for the worse and hope for the best, but unfortunately we got the worse,” said Jackson.

A model of what the Waterloo Park site was originally supposed to look like include an upper floor. But the top floor has eliminated because its proposed height violated a city ordinance regarding unrestricted views of the state capitol.  Recent flooding events have also caused delays. The tunnel project re-directs flood water from Waller Creek down into a massive underground tunnel, and to Lady Bird Lake. The tunnel, which was cut under downtown through solid limestone, is already moving water but is not expected to be fully functional until next year.

When the project was originally pitched there was an idea that Waller Creek would be transformed into a Riverwalk similar to what San Antonio and Oklahoma City have. That idea has literally gone down the drain.

Engineers say a Riverwalk would require building a series of locks and dams because the creek's elevation is above the lake. The goal is to restore the creek to a more natural condition not commercialize it. That’s disappointing for people like Tina Comeaux who works nearby.

"To be honest I thought it was going to have restaurants and all kinds of things, it would help downtown by the way,” said Comeaux.

The creek has long been the domain for Austin’s transient community. It’s not uncommon to come across campsites and the stench of urine. It’s unclear how the new restoration project will change that. It’s being managed by the Waller Creek Conservancy. The organization plans to work in phases and will start with Waterloo Park.

The fence around the park may not come down until 2018. The cost to re-envision the entire length of Waller Creek is estimated to be about $120-million. The conservancy has raised $40 million so far. 

Officials with the organization say they do not envision businesses and restaurants will be setting up along the creek, but they do anticipate an urban feel will remain between 7th and Cesar Chavez.

 

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