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Waller Creek Design Winner Named; Plans to Turn Area Into 'Chain of Parks'

A winner has been named in the Waller Creek design competition.

The team of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. and Thomas Phifer & Partners was named by the Waller Creek Conservancy and approved by the Austin City Council this morning.

As KUT News reported in our live blog of presentations from the Waller Creek design finalists, the team envisions Waller Creek as a chain of parks. They propose blowing out the concrete structure supporting Interstate 35 from Fourth to Sixth Street to allow more East-West connectivity.

“If I lived in East Austin I’d be mad as hell about that highway,” Valkenburgh told KUT News. “We’ve taken very seriously this notion of blowing out this section between Fourth and Sixth street, cutting out all the underneath and liberating Fifth Street as a new aperture, but also to redesign Waller so it’s accessible and friendly from the east.”

The team delineated five areas of focus along the creek, largely dictated by the location of inlets and outlets for the Waller Creek tunnel underneath, the raison d'etre for the project. When completed, the Waller Creek tunnel will prevent the creek from flooding, and pull over 40 acres of downtown land out of the floodplain.

“The tunnel project roils up; it makes itself evident several times,” Valkenburgh said.  “Each time there’s this water collection infrastructure that’s collected, that’s where we started this idea of interventions to kind of soften and make better these engineering moments.”

“We have tried, in making Waller Creek into a park, to try and marry art and science,” Valkenburgh continued. “We have hydrologists and ecologists and bridge engineers, and like half of our team are scientists. The whole project here at Waller is about this tunnel project and putting the flood waters into a pipe and transporting them beyond the site, I think our project is somewhat unique in the way we have taken very seriously the science of this project.”

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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