In 1981, massive amounts of rain caused deadly and damaging flooding on Shoal Creek. According to experts, a similar flood could occur today on Waller Creek which passes through downtown just West of I-35. If this were to happen, there could be significant damage across more than 1 million square feet of prime downtown real estate bordering the waller creek flood plain. As recently as January, heavy rains have led to dangerous flooding on Waller Creek.
Recognizing this risk, developers and other downtown factions have been advocating for an elaborate downtown tunnel that would carry floodwaters 60-feet under the current creek banks, essentially eliminating the risk of a downtown flood on Waller Creek. In addition to lowering the risk of development on some prime lots, the City hopes that the tunnel will pen the way to the development of a San Antonio sytle Riverwalk with gondolas, restaurants, stores, and lots of free-spending tourists. Today, the City Council took the first step to make this happen.
Here is the summary from News 8 Austin:
Plans for the Waller Creek tunnel project are moving along. The Austin City Council unanimously approved the creation of the Waller Creek Tax-Increment Financing District at Thursday night’s meeting.The decision allows for the redrawing of district lines so that political entities can fund the project. In this case, it allows for the city of Austin and Travis County to finance the project.The Waller Creek tunnel would carry water from the creek starting at Waterloo Park down to Town Lake and take out more than 1 million square feet of prime downtown land from the floodplain.Development plans also include beautification projects for Waterloo and Palm parks.Thursday’s city council decision makes way to appoint the tax-increment financing district board, which will ultimately approve the final financing plan. The cost is now pushing $125 million.
While expensive, this project makes sense. The city wants developers to spend billions of dollars investing in downtown. For this to happen, the city needs to invest in infrastructure to support development and remove the risk of downtown flooding. The idea of a pedestrian-friendly riverwalk is a nice idea that would dramatically improve the somewhat dreary corridor on the west end of downtown. While this project will take years to complete, today’s council decision is a step in the right direction.