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Historic trestle bridge on Third Street could get a new life

Monday, June 13, 2022 by Samuel Stark

Hidden among the glimmering towers in Austin’s downtown district is a quaint trestle bridge that serves as a window into a bygone era. The bridge, located on Third Street, rests 35 feet above Shoal Creek and was constructed nearly a century ago by the International-Great Northern Railroad.

The trestle facilitated the transportation of goods in and out of Austin’s downtown area for decades of the 20th century before eventually becoming obsolete and left to deteriorate, albeit quite gracefully.

But Austin entities have worked hard to ensure this remnant of the past is not forgotten. On Friday, Shoal Creek Conservancy and the  Downtown Austin Alliance held an event in front of Shoal Creek Bridge to celebrate its recent listing on the National Registry of Historic Places. They also discussed plans to revitalize the bridge so it can be used for transportation once again.

“(The plan) calls for the restoration of the trestle as a public plaza and a scenic overlook offering a leisurely route for pedestrians to traverse Shoal Creek or be able to sit amongst the beautiful backdrop,” said Ivey Kaiser, the executive director of Shoal Creek Conservancy.

If their plan is adopted, the bridge would become a public pedestrian space akin to the Pfluger Street Bridge over Lady Bird Lake. The plan also includes a proposal to construct another wider bridge, replacing one already there, next to the trestle for cyclists and faster traffic to use.

“The proposal shows the potential of historic preservation to create a bridge, no pun intended, between the past and the future,” Kaiser said.

The next steps involve finding an appropriate city department to purchase the trestle bridge from Union Pacific, its current owner. Advocacy to transfer ownership to the city is happening now, Kaiser said.

Then the interested parties will start the fundraising process so they can begin construction.

The restoration of the historic bridge is one of the many concepts in the Cypress & Shoal Creek Public Space Strategy project. Among other plans, they hope to revitalize parts of the existing Shoal Creek Trail and create public plazas on Third Street near the creek. If adopted, the plazas will create more space for pedestrians, limit the number of cars and add more greenery.

“With the tremendous growth we’re seeing, there is a need for good public space that’s managed and maintained. It is so important to the health and welfare, not only for us individually but collectively for the community. I think we learned a number of lessons during the pandemic, that open spaces are critical,” said Dewitt Peart, CEO of the  Downtown Austin Alliance.

Some of the proposals in the Cypress & Shoal Creek project are intended to serve as an alternative to the Bowie underpass project, a $6.6 million plan that would have provided a link for cyclists and pedestrians to go under the railroad tracks between the Market District and the Pfluger Street Bridge. The Bowie plan was determined to be unfeasible last year.

Concept design by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects via the Shoal Creek Conservancy. This story has been changed since publication to correct a typo.

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