3 new improvement projects poised to transform popular Austin trails

Austinites have always been big fans of our parks, trails, green spaces, and wildlife sanctuaries, and during the pandemic, these places proved even more important to our quality of life than ever. So it seems fitting that 2021 begins with news about improvements to the great outdoors in the city.

From new bridges to new route connections, three projects are currently underway.

Improvements to the hiking and biking trails at Longhorn Dam

Design work for the recommended wishbone design for a new footbridge on the walking and cycling path at Longhorn Dam began in the fall of 2020. The closest crossings over Lady Bird Lake are two miles east, near 183, and west at I. -35.

The wishbone bridge design facilitates the connection between the east end of Ann and Roy Butler’s hiking and biking trails, as well as the Country Club Creek, Eastlink, and Guerrero Park trails. A public space will also be created, similar to the Pfluger Bridge on the west side, offering spaces to rest, gather and enjoy the view. These improvements were included in Proposition B’s $ 102 million for major capital improvements, and with the proposal approved by voters, city officials began working on an implementation plan. The schedule for designing, bidding, contracting and building the new bridge is at least five years (ironically, the schedule given when the project first started three years ago).

Meanwhile, interim improvements began to be built in January to ensure better separation between cars and people on South Pleasant Valley Road, including when crossing the dam. And none too soon – a city-wide analysis of five years of crash data included South Pleasant Valley Road between Cesar Chavez and Oltorf streets as one of 12 streets with high injury and death rates. The city is targeting these streets with construction initiatives, improved signage, and targeted enforcement. Pleasant Valley is expected to take six months to build.

Improvements to the Shoal Creek Trail on Third Street

The Downtown Austin Alliance and Shoal Creek Conservancy have just completed a public comment phase on drafts to improve the Shoal Creek Trail on Third Street, known as the Cypress & Shoal Creek Public Space Strategy. This area serves as the gateway to downtown and to lakeside destinations including the Central Austin Library and the Butler Trail. The improvements aim to make it easier and safer to get here on foot, by bike or by bus and to better navigate to points beyond.

This project is part of the Shoal Creek Trail Plan, a community-led vision for the entire trail that concluded in 2018 with contributions from more than 100 community groups. The end goal is a seamless, connected path along the 11 mile long Shoal Creek Corridor and connection to other urban trails that will eventually become part of the “Big Loop,” 30 miles of trails and bike paths that circle the city.

Hornsby Bend construction

The Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory, located in the 1,200-acre Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant, is a nationally renowned bird watching site that is open, seven days a week, morning through evening, year round. Since 1959, bird watchers have observed a staggering number of bird species around their ponds (a checklist can be found here).

The current construction of the Transfer Pump Station project is affecting access to some popular bird watching areas. New fences around the construction of a new pumping station on the west end of Pond 2 are blocking Pond 2 Road, temporarily reducing the length that is open to walking. For the duration of this construction, the River Trail is closed to visitors who start east of the old pumping station. Pond 3 remains accessible from the north and is walking distance from the Platt Lane entrance to the River Trail. As soon as the demolition work is completed, access to Pond 3 on the River Trail will be reopened. After completion of the project, which is expected by summer 2022, the streets around pond 2 will be reopened to public access.

Currently, all visitors to Hornsby Bend are required to check-in at the main entrance gate, follow physical distancing guidelines, and wear a mask when interacting with others. In addition to the ponds, the River Trail and Platt Lane Trail are open for hiking and biking.

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