Me, last month:
Meanwhile, two weeks ago there was a story about TxDOT closing the White Oak Bayou Hike and Bike Trail between Ella and 34th streets while there is construction on the service road for 610 North at East TC Jester. The closure was scheduled for two years, without an alternate route that bicyclists thought was adequate. Fortunately, after meeting with bike activists, TxDOT made some changes to accommodate riders a little better. I’ve been meaning to get over there and take some pictures but just haven’t had the chance. Anyone here have experience with what’s going on at this location?
A reader named Andy wrote to me that he had had a close look at this area, and it’s not as you would expect based on that report. He sent me some of photos to illustrate, two of which I will show here. First, a view of the White Oak Trail from the north:
And a view from street level:
I took photos of this mess on Monday (Jan 23) [...] In short, the construction company working for TxDOT decided to bury the section of White Oak Trail which runs under 610 with the dirt they removed while leveling out other sections. They didn’t have to do this, but it was faster and cheaper than having to haul the dirt somewhere else. Other than the dirt, there is absolutely no construction going on there right now, and there were no construction vehicles there at all on Monday.
TxDOT and/or Karen Othon apparently has been claiming that the trail closure was for safety reasons, but this is simply nonsense. They could use a chainlink and plywood safety barricade over the trail just as other construction companies have used downtown to keep pedestrian access open, and limit total closure of this section of White Oak Trail to the same times that they close TC Jester (when doing overhead crane work, such as lifting and setting beams, the same as they did when rebuilding Ella’s 610 overpass). This however would be less convenient for the construction company, since it would be an additional cost and they would also need to find another place to pile the dirt they removed while leveling other areas.
While taking photos, I also witnessed no less than 20-25 people in about a 30 minute or so time span going around and over the dirt piled on the trail (I had to wait for many to get out of the frame so I could take photos). A number of hikers climbed right up and over the dirt (which is not safe at all for reasons which can be seen in the photos from the north end of the dirt pile), while other pedestrians and bicyclists used the sidewalk on the west side of TC Jester which runs parallel to White Oak Trail, and then crossed under 610, (which is just dirt and loose gravel). This route likely won’t remain an option once demolition and construction begins on the three existing bridges though. I also saw several people walk down the bayou embankment and follow the flat concrete basin to bypass the blocked trail and walk right under 610 (also not terribly safe, due to the steep incline).
Somehow TxDOT is going to have to come up with an option other than blocking White Oak Trail until late 2013 because people are clearly not going to stop traveling through the area.
And in a followup email, Andy writes:
When I was speaking with Tom Gall via email yesterday, he mentioned “My understanding is that the soil on the trail will serve as a platform for the piling cranes and isn’t just spare soil but we certainly need to keep an eye on them.” If that is what TxDOT has been claiming in the public meetings (they only claim they closed the trail for “safety reasons” on their website), then it would seem TxDOT’s contractor needs to use a crane with a longer boom and/or a different sort of jib. I can’t see the ~10ft width of the trail making all that much difference anyway when they bring in a large crane with a diesel-driven pile driver attachment (which is the type of pile driver they would most likely use if they are going to be installing prestressed concrete piles). I would actually be surprised if they located a crane that close to the bayou embankment because of the steep grade and danger of tipping the crane over too. There also appear to be stockpile markings on the soil that has been piled over the trail.
You can see in the photo of the north end of the trail just how dangerous they’ve made it with all that reinforcing mesh/wire sticking up out of the dirt. It was when I was taking photos from grade level (which was around 5:30pm) that I saw people heading north on the trail and climbing over and going through that mess. With all the people clearly unwilling to stop using the trail, if TxDOT and their contractor doesn’t come up with another solution, and soon, someone is very likely to end up hurt and then turn around and sue to city. With all the budget shortfalls, the last thing the city needs is another lawsuit.
Also, the retaining wall made of decorative concrete bricks is still in place. They just buried it under all that dirt. I would like to know what they’ve done with the metal safety railing they removed though. That railing was custom made and expensive…
My thanks to Andy for sending this along. It doesn’t sound like a good situation to me. I don’t know who needs to take this up with TxDOT, but they do respond when enough of a fuss is made. Let’s make that fuss for them, shall we?