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North Acres Trail bridge approved despite concerns from area residents

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

It may have been a long time coming, but improvements to the North Acres Trail and the installation of a bike and pedestrian bridge are finally on their way to northeast Austin. While most neighborhoods would applaud such a move, the decision Thursday by the City Council to approve the bridge met with considerable disapproval from area residents.

 

The bridge will span Little Walnut Creek from Furness Drive to Park Plaza Drive. When complete, the 180-foot bridge will be part of a larger 450-foot project that will fit into the existing northeast Austin pedestrian and bicycle network.

 

Public input for the project has been going on since 2008, with many residents in the Windsor and Heritage Hills neighborhoods opposed. Among other things, residents feared that crime would increase in their neighborhood and property values would fall if access from the Rundberg Lane area was simplified.

 

City Council approved funding for the project last Thursday in a vote of 6-1, with Mayor Lee Leffingwell voting in opposition.

 

“This project has been a long time coming,” said Council Member Chris Riley, who noted the plan for the bridge was, in fact, approved before he was on City Council.

 

Riley pointed out that the bridge was part of an important bike route in the city, allowing access to the network of bike trails already in place from that northeast neighborhood.

 

“I’m very hopeful that people will see this bridge as a tremendous asset, not just to the Austin community in general, but to this area,” said Riley. “I feel some degree of confidence that people will be walking around more… I know kids may resist the idea of walking to school because it does take some work, but there are good reasons why this is something we would want to encourage.”

 

Many of those who spoke in opposition to the bridge were concerned that its construction would mean the end of busing to Hart Elementary, because the walking distance would be shortened considerably. One of the students at the school explained the walk would be tiring for him. Other, older residents cited concerns that the walk wouldn’t be safe for schoolchildren. 

 

David Wells wrote a letter to City Council about the plan, worrying that the change could make schoolchildren vulnerable to abduction. Wells was also concerned that the increased police presence on Rundberg Lane could push gang members into his neighborhood.

 

In addition to increasing their presence on Rundberg Lane, the Austin Police Department helped implement design techniques on the bridge to deter crime. There will be barriers in place to prevent access underneath the bridge, and it will be lighted.

 

In addition to these steps, Assistant Chief Brian Manley told City Council that they had been working with the community to establish neighborhood watch groups and increase patrols in the area. And in September, the department recently a $1 million grant from the Department of Justice which has bankrolled the department’s Restore Rundberg Project.

 

Manley told City Council he didn’t anticipate an increase in crime in the neighborhood south of the bridge as a result of its construction.

 

Joseph de Leon spoke in favor of the bridge, noting it would make his current bike commute from Windsor Hills much shorter, and much safer. The bridge will allow him to eliminate the portion of his commute that runs along the frontage of I-35, which he explained was the most dangerous portion of his current route.

 

Tom Wald, who is the executive director of Bike Austin also supported the construction, and hoped it would pave the way for more children to walk or bike to school.

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