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Lucy’s notes from the underground.

Whenever someone asks what we do at the Waller Creek Conservancy, I inevitably hear, “oh, is that what all of that construction near Lady Bird Lake is about?”

It can be difficult to give a brief, “elevator pitch” about the conservancy because the answer to this question is both “yes,” and “no.”

The Waller Creek Tunnel is a City of Austin project. It is being financed and executed by the city.  The tunnel takes care of Waller Creek’s below-ground needs, funneling rain waters into the mouth of Lady Bird Lake. By doing so, the tunnel removes a 28-acre stretch—and landmass equivalent to 11 percent of downtown Austin—from a floodplain that has hindered development and redevelopment opportunities for decades.

The Waller Creek Conservancy is in a unique public-private partnership with the city to transform the surface-level of Waller Creek. Though the conservancy is not directly involved in the tunnel project, we are dependent upon it. Although in many places it is no more than 15 feet wide, the creek can swell to over 50 times its normal size during extreme flood events. Without this tunnel, any improvements to the parks and trails along Waller Creek could be washed away when the creek floods. In fact, this is exactly what has happened to previous attempts at developments along the creek.

Last month, some members of the conservancy took a tour of the tunnel to witness this incredible feat of engineering in person. We were the guests of Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and were joined by Travis County Commissioners Karen Huber and Sarah Eckhardt.

See below for a glimpse at the adventure. All photo credits: Jim Innes.

Our group learning about the engineering behind the tunnel.

Walking into the “man cage” to get lowered below ground.

The “man cage” being lowered into the tunnel.

Descending into the Waller Creek Tunnel.

Group shot inside the tunnel.

Walking the completed length of the tunnel.


The author gets out of the “man cage,” excited to explore the tunnel