Last month’s deadly collapse of a Florida pedestrian bridge led to a new review of Austin bridges with safety concerns.
Monday, the city released details of the top five bridges it says need major rehabilitation or a total replacement. These are bridges thousands drive, bike and walk across every day.
1. Redbud Trail/Emmett Shelton bridge over Lady Bird Lake
2. Barton Springs Road bridge over Barton Creek
3. Delwau Lane bridge over Boggy Creek
4. William Cannon Drive Railroad Overpass
5. Slaughter Lane Railroad Overpass
KXAN took a closer look at the bridge on Barton Springs Road, where the issue isn’t as much structural as it is the design itself and the safety concerns created.
It’s one of Austin’s hottest intersections, bridging the gap between Zilker Park and south Austin, serving as a gateway to some of the city’s biggest attractions.
“It’s a beautiful setting, but at some point, you have to say… safety comes first,” Felicity Maxwell, with Friends of Zilker, said.
She’s lived in the neighborhood for years. “We’re not surprised by the outcome of this report,” Maxwell said of the city memo highlighting the state of Austin’s bridges.
The traffic flow bottlenecks at the Barton Springs Road bridge, leaving little room for people walking or biking.
“There’s really not a place to bring a stroller or if you are on a bike, you might fear for your life,” Maxwell said. “That’s what we’re concerned about. The park is for everybody but right now it’s really not serving the needs of everybody that wants to come in and out of Zilker.”
Pirouz Moin, a bridge engineer with Public Works, said for many years the guardrail on the bridge was OK, but for today’s traffic, it’s not. The proposal wouldn’t add lanes but it would widen the bridge.
Moin said safety improvements would include, “Sidewalks, bike lanes, proper two lanes on each side and a 15-foot median.”
But right now, there’s only funding for the primary engineering phase — nothing to complete the design or construction.
“We try to make sure that they are all safe, they’re all operated safely so we are OK. But, going forward for many years to come, we need to get these done,” Moin said.
The need may not be critical yet, but the city sees what’s coming.
“It takes such a long time to design and then construct the bridge that we have to start looking at it way ahead of time,” he explained.
Maxwell says she’s surprised more hasn’t been done already. “This has been a hotspot for a while and quite frankly we’d like to see more progress. We’d like to see things besides just a design,” she said.
Austin City Council will determine whether to include a recommended $54 million for bridge funding in a potential 2018 bond.
If the city can secure matching funds, that would cover repairs for the top three bridges. Without that, bond funding alone would be enough to replace the bridge on Red Bud Trail. This is the bridge that tops the city’s list when it comes to need, connecting Austin and West Lake Hills over Lady Bird Lake.
The bridge is 70 years old. It was only built to last 50 years. It also falls within city limits, so Austin’s engineers are making plans for a taller, wider bridge with bike and pedestrian lanes.
As KXAN first reported in January, the city of West Lake Hills is worried a wider bridge could eventually allow for more lanes, meaning more traffic. At the time, the mayor said narrow, curvy West Lake Hills roads can’t handle any extra cars.
Austin promises to work with West Lake Hills, but ultimately, Austin has the final say.
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