Now that Austin’s had a few months to get familiar with the reopened Waterloo Park, you might wonder what’s next for the Waterloo Greenway conservancy, since the nonprofit’s plans for transforming the rest of Waller Creek into a 35-acre linear park running 1.5 miles from 15th Street to Lady Bird Lake on the eastern edge of downtown have been public knowledge for years. But unlike the decade-long timeline of Waterloo Park’s renovation — complicated by the tortured construction of a flood control tunnel making the park equally important as a work of public infrastructure — we won’t have quite as long to wait for Phase 2 of the Waterloo Greenway project, with construction on its next segment currently scheduled to begin in Q3 2022.
Known for now simply as the Creek Delta, this stretch of the plan will follow Waller Creek from Fourth Street to its outlet in Lady Bird Lake, a tightly-packed region with lots of new development in the works, requiring this phase of the project to spin a lot of plates and connect a lot of dots — prominent current and future neighbors along the path of the Delta include the Austin Convention Center, the “supertall” tower plan overlooking the creek at Cesar Chavez and Red River Streets, the tower or towers planned at 80 Red River Street, the expanding Mexican American Cultural Center in the Rainey Street District, the Hike-and-Bike Trail along the lake, and a little ditty called Project Connect set to construct a light rail bridge and station for its Blue Line somewhere in the middle of it all. It’s enough to make your eyes cross.
Thankfully we’re not the ones tasked to keep tabs on all the stakeholders involved here, but someone’s gotta do it — and with newly-announced CEO Jesús Aguirre now running the show at Waterloo Greenway, it appears the next phase of the plan is shifting into gear. According to a presentation from project representatives to the city’s Design Commission earlier this week, alongside the new trails following the creek itself, the Delta project contains approximately 12 new connections to existing right-of-way between Fourth Street and the Hike-and-Bike Trail, three new “lattice” pedestrian bridges passing over the creek in the area south of Cesar Chavez Street, and an elevated walkway over the water near the convention center.
This phase seems to have a slightly lighter touch than what the conservancy needed for its operations at Waterloo Park, but its modifications to the riparian corridor are still significant. Waller Creek’s banks in this area are heavily eroded outside of its channelized sections, requiring major restoration and native replanting to bring back something that looks remotely natural. The result might be a “Cyborg Creek,” but it’s a lot better-looking than what’s there now — and the project plans to preserve all undamaged heritage trees in the area alongside its new plantings.
The plan as described here received a unanimous recommendation of compliance with the city’s design and sustainability standards from the Design Commission earlier this week, but there’s still some pieces missing — the Waterloo Greenway folks are apparently planning to release more official info about this next phase of work soon, along with an official name for the project that might be something different than “Creek Delta.” How could they possibly come up with anything catchier?