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With Growth Comes Necessary Discomfort: S.H. 161 Mitigation - Mike Lewis & C.P. Waggoner Parks

By James R. Kindred, HNTB Corp.

This is the preliminary HNTB team concept design prior to construction documents being prepared. There was a high level of quality and detail that went into the planning of this mitigation project that would serve as one of the keystones to Grand Prairie's Park and Recreational system.

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The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex area has undergone exponential growth over the past two decades. With this growth comes the need for the highway system expansion. State Highway 161 seemed to be a perfect solution. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) would expand SH 161 to become a part of the current President George Bush Turnpike from Irving, down to Interstate 20, passing through the city of Grand Prairie.

The mitigation provided for an overlook on the West Fork of the Trinity River. The HNTB design team offered a creative solution not only for a resting and viewing space, but also an interpretive opportunity including a working flood gauge as part of the overlook structure itself and accompanying interpretive signage. The shade canopy is constructed of various size stainless steel wire mesh that casts varying and concentric shade patterns on the plaza below, similar to rings seen on water surfaces when the surface is disturbed. This canopy is set at the elevation flood waters rose on two consecutive years in the early to mid-1990s. The main structural column is clad in native limestone and has stainless steel elevation markers at 5-foot intervals. The Overlook Plaza incorporates natural stone seating areas similar to the stone outcroppings that can be seen along the banks of the Trinity River.

Unfortunately, the project became politically charged with many neighborhood and citizen groups up in arms because of the proposed environmental and community impacts. The alignment selection and public involvement processes became difficult for TxDOT and eventually ended in litigation.

The settlement determined a highway alignment which passes through the existing Mike Lewis and C.P. Waggoner Parks with an agreement to mitigate the impacts through the requisition of 62 acres of additional land to be donated to the city for park development.

TxDOT also agreed to provide $10 million in new and renovated amenities between the two parks, including a new maintenance facility for the city. This proposal was a win for Grand Prairie and will be represented in this submission a creative and unusual solution for a State Department of Transportation Entity.

Tri-Active America Fitness Equipment has been a big hit with the public for the project. Other products used included Most Dependable Fountain Drinking Fountains and Misting Stations.

The Catch

As part of the mitigation settlement, TxDOT agreed to begin the construction of the park expansion and amenity improvements prior to the construction or letting of the SH 161 expansions. In mid 2004, TxDOT began to realize that they would be ready to begin the construction of the SH 161 expansion in 2006 and the park enhancements had not even begun to be planned or designed for construction implementation.

In June of 2004, TxDOT asked HNTB to be the design team of choice for this aggressive project based on our reputation for successful design and implementation of challenging projects. In addition to the compressed schedule, we essentially had dual clients - TxDOT and the city of Grand Prairie - both deeply entrenched in the design process. In the end, TxDOT was not only pleased with the on-time, on-budget delivery, but we made significant headway in expanding their vision of the value quality design can bring to a project.

The site included several large delineated wetland areas. In efforts to conserve these areas while providing pedestrian trail access, there is over 830 linear feet of boardwalk. In keeping with the natural environment and design theme, the boardwalk is recycled decking plank material by TREX and incorporated custom prairie grass safety railings.

Starting Blocks

The overall vision for this project was to enhance the existing two parks and create a bridge between them using the donated land along SH 161. Waggoner Park had undergone considerable renovation in 2003, but Lewis Park, built in the 1960s, was in disrepair. The larger of the two, Lewis Park is bordered by the Elm Fork of the Trinity River to the northeast and has a large forested area in its southern section.

Once a private park for a large corporation, it contains several well-used, but rundown features including an equestrian center, baseball fields, picnic areas, playgrounds and exercise areas. Both parks are well loved by the citizens of Grand Prairie and many people spend their summer evenings participating in baseball/softball tournaments there.

Like Lewis Park, Waggoner Park features a large wooded area on its northern edge and a rich riparian environment fed by Johnson Creek to the east and south. The opportunities to protect and enhance this rich environmental treasure were a particular pleasure for our design team.

The overall vision for this project was to enhance the existing two parks and create a bridge between them using the donated land along SH 161

Park Theming

Grand Prairie has been proactive in theming each park within its parks system. In its 2003 renovation, Waggoner Park was prescribed a nature theme as evidenced by the leaf and grass motifs used. On the children's playground structure, pictures and names of varying leaves were engraved into the structure. We wanted to amplify this educational and aesthetic theme and use it across the full scope of the project.

To connect the trails, several creeks, rivers and channels were spanned. This small pedestrian scale bridge was furnished by Wheeler Bridges. To keep with the natural theme yet be maintenance sensitive, the design team used rustic weathered steel members with a concrete deck surface for the multi-purpose pedestrian trail.

Our resulting design used an arching grasses motif as seen in the examples on the following pages. We also developed a modern color palate of chocolate brown, sandstone and brushed silver to complement the Blackland Prairie surround. We utilized native stone, including a chocolate Mill Creek rough cut stone and smooth cut shell-filled sandstone, along with stainless steel to make up this palate.

Under the SH 161 mitigation agreement, TxDOT would provide two new playground areas. The renovated playground area offers interpretive play equipment, Naos Galaxy by Kompan. This equipment allows the children to climb, spin, or sit and simply daydream.

Unique Solutions

  • Educational Signage: Along the course of the trails, our team developed a series of education signs. Topics included the Native American history of settlement along the river, as well as information about riparian environments, blackland prairie woodlands, native grasslands and historic flooding. Of particular contextual significance is a sign that describes the ever-changing landscape of transportation: how the native peoples and settlers used the river to move people and goods, followed by the expansion of the railroad system through the area, and currently our modern use of highways, rail and mass-transit for the same purpose.River Overlook: The river overlook structure was designed to sit on the bank of the Trinity River in the northeast section of Lewis Park. The structure is anchored by a central support, crafted of concrete with a smooth cut sandstone veneer. Atop the central support sits a mesh canopy. The overlapping layers of silver mesh create a shade pattern that moves through the day, creating a series of shade ripples--much like you would see from a stone thrown in the river. The column itself is segmented with stainless steel markers engraved to denote the rise over the normal river level... much like a larger version of the typical backyard rain gauge. Educational signage at the site describes the historical flood events of the area; describing a specific event where flood waters rose to a height of 52 feet. The height of the canopy rests at specifically that high water level with intermediate marks giving the visitor a stunning image of the fierce magnitude of such events. The Overlook is further accented visually with the use of a contrasting stone: smooth sandstone on the canopy column and dark chocolate, rough-cut stone used in the retaining walls surrounding the base. In addition, the arching grasses motif is continued in the steel guard railing surrounding the structure. With its placement on the bank of the river, the structure was specifically designed to withstand the flow force and abrasion of flooding events.Pedestrian Bridge: A highlight of the project is a 250-foot span pedestrian bridge which crosses Johnson Creek near the planned IH 161 alignment. The structure is rated for emergency vehicle access, and complies with AASHTO safety standards for bicycle and pedestrian facilities. The dark mill creek stone walls create the foundation for a bright shell limestone gateway at the bridge. Over 1,500 linear feet of matte silver guard railing, accented with the arching grass design, will be found here in addition to the other areas described (over 3,000 linear feet total). Visible from the planned highway, the bridge will serve as a lasting monument to both park visitors and future SH 161 travelers.
  • Backwater Pond: In studying the existing landscape, we noted a naturally occurring backwater pond resting adjacent to the river in Lewis Park. In fact, the overlook location was chosen to have a view of the pond. During flooding, water rises over a naturally occurring berm and is captured in the low lying area for days, weeks or months. We enhanced this significant environmental feature through a grading plan for the overlook that would protect the existing berm, along with plantings that would thrive in the wet/dry cycle of this area.

The second playground is a completely new facility, in keeping with the natural theme and using natural climbing rock structures such as "The Rock". This facility also offers more nontraditional interpretive climbing structures. The "Space Net" and "The Rock" were provided by Landscape Structures.

The Outcome

HNTB's design team, much to the satisfaction of the TxDOT and Grand Prairie, completed the design of the park system expansion and renovations along with the accompanying 412 page construction document set plus specifications in the four month time period. We completed this task while meeting TxDOT's budget requirements and showed a high level of creativity to both parties' satisfaction.

One of the main provisions of this mitigation project was to meld the two existing parks into a continuous and thematically connected parks system. To achieve this, there are over three miles of new trails maneuvering through many ecologically rich areas and offering great interpretive opportunities to the park goers. Grand Prairie has renamed this park system The Link.

This allowed the construction of the SH 161 extension to begin in early 2006 and provided the City of Grand Prairie with a gem to be added to their parks and recreation system. We believe this project raised the bar for our profession; demonstrating the significant and active role that multi-discipline engineering firms can play in managing dual client expectations and interpreting and fulfilling court-prescribed project objectives--all while creating mutually beneficial and context relative solutions.

TxDOT agreed to provide improved fishing amenities for the parks, which currently sponsors state "Kid Fish" events. These amenities include a new fishing pier and a re-charge well system to keep the lake full year around, as the lake historically went dry in the hot Texas summers. This fishing pier structure reflects the common custom native prairie grass themed railings throughout the mitigation project. The pier railing design accommodates all ages and abilities with special areas lowered for wheel chair bound park patrons.

The Future

Mike Lewis and C.P. Waggoner Parks project was successfully bid by TxDOT in March of 2005. The construction of the project was completed in October of 2006. Grand Prairie has renamed this park system as The Link and they view this park system as the major, diversified, park amenity system within their city's current parks system matrix. Grand Prairie has already begun to plan additional program elements for addition to this park system for the future, including a possible recreation center facility.

As part of the SH 161 - Mike Lewis and Waggoner Parks Mitigation Improvements project, there are four Dallas Model Pavilions made by Classic Recreation Systems. HNTB design team used more natural earth-tone colors, including dark greens and rustic reds for all shelters and buildings and natural wood understructure for the pavilion roofs. The same natural stone treatments were applied to these pavilions.

About HNTB

HNTB is a multidisciplinary firm known and respected for its work in transportation, bridges, aviation, architecture, urban design and planning, environmental engineering, water and construction services. We serve our clients with integrity, technical excellence and a commitment to performance -- providing quality work, on time, on budget and to the client's satisfaction. Through exceptional service and a shared vision, we create public infrastructure that unites, enriches and inspires.

The massive Johnson Creek bridge structure, in keeping with the park's nature and mitigation interpretive themes, incorporated natural stone selections found throughout the area including shell limestone and dark reddish-chocolate brown stone selections reflective of the deep native clay soils found in many areas of North Texas. The custom native prairie grass railings are once again provided to span this beautiful structure. At night, the bridge abutment's limestone columns are washed in a vibrant blue lighting while the bridge deck is washed in gentle white illumination.

Included in the improvements provided by TxDOT for this project is an approximately 250-foot bridge crossing Johnson Creek. As part of the bridge structure and in keeping with the overall park's nature and mitigation interpretive themes, the HNTB project design team incorporated natural stone selections found throughout the area including shell limestone and dark reddish-chocolate brown stone selections reflective of the deep native clay soils found in many areas of North Texas.

There are five separate trail turn-out areas with Mingus Model Shelters provided by Classic Recreation Systems. The benches have natural stone treatments that carry over throughout the park.

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October 13, 2019, 6:43 pm PDT

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