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City Council to consider fate

Thursday, August 31, 2000 by

Downtown activist Chris Riley is asking the Austin City Council to take a second look at the Third Street rail trestle, a wooden rail crossing over Shoal Creek in downtown Austin that could soon be demolished if the Council approves a change order on the Ullrich pipeline projec t today.

Removal of the railway trestle would cost $84,650. Riley sent an email to Council Members on Wednesday, arguing that the cost of rehabilitating or rebuilding the bridge might be significantly lower than figures provided by the Department of Public Works and Transportation. The area around the bridge "has a tremendous potential for being a natural asset for downtown," Riley said.

"I'm still not certain that we need to be spending the money to save it," Riley admitted. He's more concerned that the Council seriously considers what the bridge might or could be. "We don't need to be moving forward with 'business as usual,' yanking down this bridge, without pausing to think about what we're doing to maintain the natural character that the area has now."

Council Member Beverly Griffith told In Fact Daily, "We need to find out more about it before it gets taken down. My hope is that we decide to provide funds in next year's budget to do a study to find out how much it would take to shore it up and make it safe." She estimated the cost of studying alternatives for removing the bridge would be about $60,000. Griffith said, "We need to see what the real hard number options are before we do anything irreversible." The bridge was built in 1925, according to city records. Council Member Will Wynn also has indicated the need to look at saving the bridge, if feasible.

Most people are likely to associate the Third Street rail trestle with the place where the circus parks its boxcars overnight when it comes to town each year. Others may associate it with current and future development projects: Seaholm and the Poleyard to the west; Austin Music Hall and Intel to the east; and the city's future federally-funded Crosstown Greenway bike path just to the north.

Riley sees the trestle as a place of natural beauty. The area under the bridge, Riley said, is one of the finest natural settings downtown. "When you're standing down there, it's hard to believe you're in the center of a very active urban area with an awful lot going on around you," Riley said.

Public Works estimates that the Third Street trestle would cost $598,000 to rehabilitate or $455,000 to replace. Using estimates from Jay-Reece Contractors, Inc–based on the rehabilitation of a historic rail bridge in New Braunfels — Riley extrapolated the cost to be closer to $321,547. Riley admits the estimates were made without a serious structural study or inspection to consider how secure the trestle actually is.

"I think a decision needs to be made about this area, with an eye toward making this a real amenity," Riley said. "The price tag for fixing up this bridge is certainly high. There are compelling needs around the city. This is certainly not at the top of the list…. but I would like the Council to focus on turning this area around."

Austin should ask developers to provide land for public infrastructure, a Phoenix councilman told the city's library task force at a public hearing last night at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Libraries, schools and parks should be integrated into the earliest phase of a city's planning process, said Phoenix City Councilman Cody Williams. Williams was on a panel that outlined recommendations to strengthen the Austin Public Library system. Those recommendations are the result of six months polling more than 1,200 library users and will be presented to the City Council in September.

According to the task force report, Austin's per capita funding falls well behind other high-tech cities and the volume of its holdings is in the bottom quartile of cities of comparable size. The report, compiled by the Austin Libraries for the Future task force, is available at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/library/lff.htm.

Last night's public hearing on the draft report was sparsely attended. Williams, one of the more popular speakers, talked about a library system that had the color and flash of a video arcade to hold the attention of youngsters. He also talked about the quid pro quo relationship between a city and its developers.

"How can the library be integrated into that planning decision?" asked Williams. "If a developer has 600 acres, you should decide what public services are required for that surrounding community."

Williams' remarks about holding developers' feet to the fire were his own and not contained in the task force report. Recommendations in the report include launching a major capital fund drive to bridge the gap in library services and writing a long-term master plan for library facilities.

Supporters of the Austin History Center were the most vocal at last night's hearing. Teresa Rabago, a member of the Historic Landmark Commission, spoke in favor of new expenditures for the Austin History Center, including a liaison for the Mexican-American community, a librarian for digital services and more expenditures on electronic reference services. .

©2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Slain officer to be remembered… This morning, the City Council will honor Officer William Jones, the park police officer who was killed in the line of duty a few months ago. His wife will be receiving a proclamation and will speak for a few minutes to thank those who have helped her during this difficult time. The Council has been invited to a luncheon in Jones' honor today at the Westwood Country Club. Other proclamations will be at 5:30 p.m., as usual. . . ABIA up, up…Austin-Bergstrom International Airport continues to set records with more passengers arriving and departing each month. For July the total was 707,153… Two family two-step… The City Council is scheduled to conduct a public hearing on design guidelines and site plan requirements for granny flats and garage apartments sometime after 6 p.m. today.. Historic objections…The City Council will consider whether to follow recommendations from the Historic Landmark Commission on zoning a Hyde Park property historic. The owner of the Duval Street property has filed a valid petition opposing the request. Only six Council Members will be present today, and it will take their unanimous vote to override the owner’s objections.

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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