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Photo by Austin Public Works

Replacement could be in the cards for historic Barton Springs Road bridge

Thursday, November 17, 2022 by Andrea Guzman

Barton Springs Road bridge could get upgrades that include a widened bridge deck, two new bicycle lanes and pedestrian paths.  

“It needs to be rehabilitated or replaced to ensure the safety and longevity as well as improved circulation in this area for vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles, all the modes of transportation,” said Eric Bailey, assistant director of Public Works’ Capital Project Delivery. 

He presented designs at a Mobility Committee meeting last week, sharing that the preferred alternative is a replacement. 

A few benefits come with that option, as it would maximize views through the bridge and maintain an open center channel in Barton Creek. This option would also come with better accommodations of the Zilker Eagle mini-train and cost 40 percent less than the rehabilitation option. And importantly, it has less risk than other options; rehabilitation, for example, brings some uncertainty about what’s achievable after demolition. 

One design, a light touch-up, has already been scrapped after an initial inspection report found it wouldn’t meet the circulation needs of the area since the lanes and sidewalks would remain roughly the same. 

Built in 1925 and expanded 21 years later, the bridge sees tight congestion and blocked traffic during events like Austin City Limits. In 2020, voters approved funding to evaluate the bridge. 

A report earlier this year described the bridge as old and obsolete. Of the city’s 452 major bridges, Barton Springs is the second-largest bridge project with a projected price tag of $36 million, behind the $54 million projected cost of the Redbud Trail bridge over Lady Bird Lake. 

While the cost of preliminary engineering is covered, construction wouldn’t be able to take place until funding for the project is identified. And once construction moves forward, costs could change and inflationary pressures could drive the price up further.

Paige Ellis, chair of the Mobility Committee, noted previous public input on changes to the area. 

“I know in years past, probably predating any of our service, there were conversations about trying to expand Barton Springs Road into more lanes, and I think the community has told people loud enough that they don’t want it expanded,” Ellis said. 

Austinites will have a chance to voice their thoughts on the designs next year, with public engagements expected to take place in winter and summer 2023. 

Ellis said the timing of the public engagements will fit well with the Zilker Park Vision Plan, a developing framework for the restoration and future development of the park. A draft is currently available for review and comment through early January. 

“I know that the conversation around accessibility is both in the perception of ‘Is Zilker Park truly for everyone or is it only for people who can afford to live and work nearby?’ Also, I believe there is consensus around making sure the bike, ped, bus accessibility is improved.” 

Ellis told Bailey she hopes he gets a good balance of viewpoints for people who want to access the bridge and Zilker Park. 

“I think this is great timing where it’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind,” she said. 

The Texas Historical Commission and City Council will also be briefed as the choices are refined, and the preliminary phase is expected to reach completion next fall. 

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