AUSTIN (KXAN) — No one contests that the 70-year-old Redbud Trail Bridge, perched between the cities of Austin and West Lake Hills, needs to be replaced, but the two cities have differing opinions on what the new bridge should look like.
Engineers say the bridge, built in 1948, does not meet current structural standards.
“Back then, those bridges were built theoretically for a 50 year lifespan,” said city of Austin Public Works Bridge Engineer Pirouz Moin. “So the bridge is clearly over its designed lifespan.”
Moin added that in the 1940s, bridges weren’t built to hold the amount of traffic they do today.
Nearly 20 years ago, the city of Austin put a new concrete deck under the bridge as a temporary fix for its failing steel girders. “The repairs were supposed to last through 2006, when we were planning to replace the bridge,” Moin said, stressing that 12 years later, it’s urgent that the bridge be replaced as soon as possible.
Moin and his teams are in the design process, planning for a new bridge that’s wider, higher and has bike and pedestrian lanes.
Those who live across the bridge in West Lake Hills, however, aren’t thrilled about the plans.
“I kind of like the old bridge,” said Elliot Aquila, a West Lake Hills resident who walks his dog at the Redbud Isle park regularly. “If it changed the aesthetic of that, it’d bum me out a little.”
West Lake Hills city leaders feel the same. Earlier in the week, Mayor Linda Anthony sent a letter to the city of Austin, saying she and the city of West Lake Hills recognize the bridge needs a fix, but they’re concerned about the “visual impact” it may have. Anthony wrote she’s specifically concerned about light pollution from proposed bridge lighting.
“We are looking at definitely making sure any lighting would be specifically lighting of the path and not adding to the light pollution,” Moin said, in response.
Anthony stated in her letter that the city of West Lake Hills also worries a wider bridge could eventually allow for more lanes and more traffic, saying the narrow, curvy West Lake roads can’t handle any extra cars. She also said adding bike lanes to the new bridge would encourage cyclists to ride into West Lake Hills on those roads, which would not be safe.
Moin insists the city of Austin has no plans to widen the new bridge to more than one lane in each direction, allowing for more vehicles than are already crossing. He also said the bike lanes are needed for cyclists who are already crossing the bridge unsafely.
“We are making it safe for everybody to use the bridge, as well as Redbud Isle,” he said.
The city of Austin promises to work with West Lake Hills to come up with a new bridge design that works on both sides of the lake, but ultimately, Austin has the final say. Plans to build the new bridge are still in the beginning stages. Currently, the city’s Public Works Department has only been given funding for the costs of the design phase. More money will be needed to construct the bridge.
Engineers estimate it will be another four to six years before the bridge will be complete. It will take longer than some bridges to construct, because the city plans to build the new bridge while the old bridge is still in operation.