Congress Avenue permanently closed to cars north of Capitol

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The portion of Congress Avenue north of the capitol is closed to vehicle traffic for good as crews continue work on a major expansion of capitol complex.

The road in front of the Bullock Texas State History Museum will become a pedestrian walkway extending from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the capitol building.

Workers closed the road to traffic permanently on Monday to begin installing fencing. They’ll remove the flagpoles in front of the museum to give cranes more space to maneuver as they dig out an underground parking garage below what will be the pedestrian mall.

The giant metal star in front of the museum, a favorite photo backdrop, will remain in place, and the museum will continue to operate normally during construction.

“It’ll look like it’s surrounded by an active construction site, which it is,” said Kate Betz, deputy director of the Bullock Museum.

It won’t necessarily be harder to get to the museum, she said, but it will be different from now on.

“This changes the way that people will get to the museum and to our garage, really forever now,” Betz said.

Crews installed a new traffic light at Colorado Street, which will direct traffic around the back of the museum to reach the garage entrance on West 18th Street. Buses that previously dropped groups off on Congress will also drive to the back instead.

“It’s a little bit longer walk from the bus to the front door of the museum, but other than that, we’re going to try to maintain the access to the museum as best we can,” said John Raff, deputy executive director of the Texas Facilities Commission.

The $581 million phase one construction should wrap up by 2022. The second phase, costing about $313 million, is scheduled for completion in 2025. A third phase has yet to be funded.

The completed project will add several new office buildings, consolidating state workers along a several-block stretch of a new pedestrian walkway. The underground parking garage will add some 4,000 additional parking spots for state workers and visitors.

Much of Congress Avenue was already closed as crews worked on the project. Planners put off closing the final block as long as they could.

“We’re at that point now where we have to move forward,” Raff said.

Betz is excited for what the expansion will mean for the museum and for this section of the city, even if does mean some “growing pains” in the short term.

“It should be a really beautiful green space for everyone to use,” she said.

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