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Photo by CTRMA. llustration of a performance on the Montopolis Bridge at night with proposed seating and lighting.

Montopolis Bridge in East Austin could get $7 million in amenities and visual improvements

Tuesday, October 5, 2021 by Nathan Bernier, KUT

An 83-year-old East Austin bridge with a view of the downtown skyline could get some major aesthetic upgrades under a project being considered by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

The Montopolis Bridge was opened to traffic in 1938 to replace an older crossing washed away by deadly floods three years earlier.

The bridge served as a crossing for cars and trucks over the Colorado River until 2018, when it was converted for pedestrians and cyclists as part of the 183 South project, a $743 million plan that added three tolled lanes in each direction between U.S. Highway 290 and State Highway 71.

CTRMA already made several improvements to the bridge including a fresh coat of paint, a new bridge rail on the east side and a new layer of asphalt on the bridge deck.

A look at the Montopolis Bridge after CTRMA added a fresh coat of paint, a new bridge rail and a new layer of asphalt on the bridge deck. Photo by CTRMA.

Now, the CTRMA Board of Directors is considering whether to spend up to $7.1 million to add seating, lighting, shade structures, interpretive signs sharing the history of the bridge and various other improvements. The project would come with annual maintenance and inspection costs of more than $100,000 per year.

CTRMA staff indicated the bridge could be used to host events, including small performances.

“If we can make this work, I think it is an awesome thing. I love the views,” CTRMA Board Member Heather Gaddes said after a staff presentation on the proposal. “Whether they just have a farmers market on it … just stuff like that that the community could do. I think that’s neat.”

CTRMA staff is looking at a bridge in Nashville as a model for the Montopolis Bridge project. The John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge was closed to cars and trucks in 1998 and has become a tourist attraction that can host events against a backdrop of the city’s downtown skyline.

John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge in Nashville. Photo by Geoff Livingston/Flickr.

The Texas Department of Transportation owns the Montopolis Bridge. CTRMA board members believe the state agency may be open to donating the structure to the mobility authority to avoid having to care for it. TxDOT did not respond to a request for comment by the time this story published. The two agencies have collaborated on rehabilitating the bridge so far.

The Montopolis Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 as one of only 10 so-called Parker truss bridges designed by the Texas Highway Department, an agency created in 1916 that is now known as TxDOT. Parker truss bridges are typified by their characteristic interconnected triangles.

Some CTRMA board members said they think the project could help the Montopolis Bridge become an iconic landmark like the Pennybacker Bridge, also known as the 360 Bridge. The steel arch structure in West Austin is depicted on everything from postcards to marketing reports from the local tourism bureau.

Image of the Pennybacker Bridge from a 2015 marketing brochure by the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

“When people come to Central Texas, they look at beautiful things like that and that’s what attracts them here,” CTRMA Board Member John Langmore said. “So I’m supportive in addition to the fact East Austin has been an underserved part of Austin for a long time.”

For the Montopolis Bridge project to move ahead, a majority of the CTRMA board would have to approve. Board members asked staff to come back at an unspecified date with a menu of options for the bridge at a range of different price points up to the $7.1 million proposal.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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