No more River­side de­tours

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

The Austin City Coun­cil will soon be­gin de­lib­er­at­ing a task force rec­om­men­da­tion on a pro­posed $84 mil­lion trans­porta­tion bond pack­age and in so do­ing will in­herit the ar­gu­ments over what’s trans­porta­tion and what isn’t and whether the money is be­ing eq­ui­tably dis­trib­uted.

The task force’s mis­sion was to “de­velop a pro­posed bond pack­age com­prised of road, side­walk, bi­cy­cle in­fra­struc­ture, trail and other trans­porta­tion-re­lated in­vest­ments.” The po­ten­tial for con­flict arises in the phrase “other trans­porta­tion-re­late in­vest­ments.”

Sure enough, that’s what hap­pened. As soon as a mem­o­ran­dum started hit­ting in­boxes, the grum­bling started over whether the rec­om­men­da­tions did enough to ease traf­fic con­ges­tion. There was more grum­bling that the rec­om­men­da­tions con­cen­trated on pro­posed spend­ing down­town.

A pro­posal to close the ex­ist­ing 1.1-mile gap in the hike-and-bike trail on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake, where it stops short of the In­ter­state 35 bridge, took some hits but sur­vived — al­beit in a way that fails to close the gap.

At $17 mil­lion, it is one of the more ex­pen­sive items in the bond pack­age, but as we noted here last month, the Austin Trails Foun­da­tion is of­fer­ing to raise $3 mil­lion to­ward the cost. The task force memo to the coun­cil rec­om­mends build­ing a board­walk that stops just east of In­ter­state 35. The Trail Foun­da­tion’s $3 mil­lion pledge is key to clos­ing the gap.

It’s not ex­actly what pro­po­nents of the board­walk project wanted to hear, but Wil­liam Kerr, the Austin lawyer who is chair­man of the Trail Foun­da­tion, said he is con­fi­dent his group can raise the money.

Let’s hope so. Clos­ing the 1.1-mile gap on the south shore trail would fa­cil­i­tate its use for run­ners, pedes­tri­ans and bi­cy­clists mov­ing east and west.

Ad­vo­cates of the trail project ac­knowl­edge the bridge might not fit a “tra­di­tional” def­i­ni­tion of trans­porta­tion but note ac­cu­rately that not all traf­fic is gen­er­ated by ve­hi­cles.

The trail stops abruptly at the east­ern edge of the Amer­i­can-States­man’s prop­erty and near the west end of Lakeshore Park. Run­ners, walk­ers and cy­clists go­ing ei­ther di­rec­tion then must move along River­side Drive un­til the trail re­sumes on the other side of the in­ter­state.

Kerr’s will­ing­ness to help the city close an an­cient ge­o­graph­i­cal and cul­tural gap by link­ing east to west is com­mend­able. He and his or­ga­ni­za­tion will need your help in get­ting that project built, and you’re go­ing to hear them ask for it. Do­nate if you can be­cause bridg­ing the di­vide is not only a mat­ter of in­fra­struc­ture and pub­lic safety — it’s also an im­por­tant devel­op­ment in the city’s his­tory.

Not only will the bridge help close the his­toric east-wide di­vide and keep those who use the trail off streets and side­walks, it will be an at­trac­tive amenity on Lady Bird Lake.

The coun­cil is ex­pected to make the fi­nal de­ci­sions on what projects will be in­cluded on the Nov. 3 bal­lot in the com­ing weeks.

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