Waller Creek may soon become a more accessible and central part of campus if construction of an underground tunnel is completed on schedule.
Waller Creek begins north of UT’s campus and flows into Lady Bird Lake. The creek spans approximately 20 city blocks, which represents 11 percent of downtown Austin, according to the Waller Creek Conservancy’s website. The conservancy works to redevelop Waller Creek into a natural setting that Austin citizens and visitors can enjoy.
The entrance to the construction site is located at Fifth Street and Interstate 35. The project will clear the floodplain for redevelopment and prevent erosion so that the area is more visitor friendly. The completion of the project might allow the construction of a rail line along Waller Creek that would potentially make the UT campus more accessible to surrounding communities.
In a guided tour of the Waller Creek tunnel construction site Friday, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole noted the updated project completion date will be some time in fall 2014. Cole has served as an Austin City Council member for more than seven years and said the Waller Creek tunnel is her main project.
Cole said in 1998, Austin citizens approved $25 million to improve Waller Creek, although she said she thought the funding was insufficient.
“It wasn’t enough,” Cole said. “However, the $25 million served as the seed money for this $106 million cost of the project.”
Once the project is completed, property values are expected to increase, Cole said. All of the city’s additional revenue generated from that increase in property value will go toward financing the project over a 20-year period.
Phillip L. Fry, author and Austin resident, said he is writing a book about Waller Creek and Austin from its early history to modern times. Fry’s book focuses on future plans for the creek, and all proceeds from the book will benefit the Waller Creek Conservancy and the development of Waller Creek.
“The future of Waller Creek will influence the future of the UT campus,” Fry said.
Recent master plans indicate that a rail line may run north-south of Waller Creek, which now runs through the east side of campus, according to Fry.
“The creek will become the center of campus and perhaps replace Guadalupe as the main transportation route for pedestrians, light rail, hike-and-bike and buses,” Fry said.
Gary Jackson, the Waller Creek tunnel project manager for the City of Austin Department of Public Works Department, said there have been no unforeseen obstacles in the completion of the project and no injuries to the construction team.
“We’ve done a very involved risk management process,” Jackson said.
Lauren Alexander, development director for the Waller Creek Conservancy, says that the conservancy works closely with the City of Austin on this project.
The conservancy is also involved in supporting the building team involved in implementing the final design of the park and maintaining its facilities, although fundraising is ongoing. Suzanne Deal Booth, board member of the conservancy, said that there is no budget for art, so after the design is finalized, the board will work to commission for great artists whose works will be integrated into the natural setting and design of the space. Booth estimates this process may take up to two years for the project to be ready for community use.
“The University of Texas is an integral part of this project because students will be able to more easily ride buses or walk to Lady Bird Lake and enjoy all of the amenities that downtown Austin has to offer,” Cole said.