Construction begins on ‘mini-boardwalk’ beneath Congress Avenue Bridge

New, wider crossing will improve safety, Trail Foundation officials say.


Highlights

Construction has begun on a project to build a “mini-boardwalk” beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge.

The Butler Hike and Bike Trail will remain open during construction.

Austin billionaire Robert F. Smith donated $1.25 million toward the $2.5 million, privately funded project.

The new bridge should open by June, officials say.

For years, runners, hikers and cyclists using the trail around Lady Bird Lake encountered a bottleneck as they passed beneath the north end of the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge.

The Butler Hike and Bike Trail narrows at the spot, and an old bridge, just 6-feet wide in spots, turns sharply. Anyone who didn’t pay attention could end up on a collision course with someone coming from the opposite direction.

But not for much longer.

Construction began at the site this week to replace that more than 40-year-old structure with a sleek 172-foot “mini-boardwalk” that will take users out over the water. Besides a 14-foot-wide bridge, the privately funded project includes a viewing platform where people can rest, watch the bats emerge during summer months or just take in the sights.

RELATED: What’s next for the hike-and-bike trail? Leaders unveil 15 projects

“It’s really significant, because the trail skinnies down at that point,” said Dean Glenesk, president of the board of directors of the Trail Foundation. “We’re all about making the trail accessible and safe.”

Robert F. Smith, 55, co-founder of Austin-based private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, donated $1.25 million to kick-start the $2.5-million project. According to Forbes magazine, Smith has a current net worth of $4.4 billion.

“Those of us lucky enough to call Austin home, and the many visitors to this city, use the Butler Trail at Lady Bird Lake every single day,” Smith said in a news release. “An investment in the trail is an investment in Austin’s future — one that will keep our most cherished outdoor asset safe, accessible and enjoyable for many years to come.”

The rest of the project’s money, which has already been raised, comes from private donations, according to Trail Foundation officials.

RELATED: Boardwalk belts play homage to classic Texas songs

The new concrete and steel bridge will do more than just improve safety at a dangerous point on the trail, said Heidi Anderson, executive director of the Trail Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to maintain and enhance the Butler Trail, a 10-mile loop around the lake.

“It’s not just a solution to a problem. It’s a new thread of community, a new destination on the trail,” she said.

The new bridge marks the nonprofit organization’s biggest project since the 1.3-mile boardwalk was installed beneath Interstate 35 in 2014. Barring any construction delays, the new bridge under Congress Avenue should open by June, Anderson said.

The popular pathway will remain open during construction, although a brief detour is planned near the end of the project, when crews connect the bridge to the existing trail and remove the wooden decking of the existing bridge. For roughly two weeks, trail users will be rerouted up and across Congress Avenue.

The Trail Foundation is collaborating with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department on the project. It also has worked closely with Bat Conservation International to design the structure so it doesn’t disturb the Mexican free-tailed bats that roost beneath the bridge.

Freese & Nichols Inc. created the design and completed permitting for the project. Jay-Reese Contractors is building the structure. So far, crews have drilled for underwater support beams just offshore of where the bridge will go. The improvements will make the area wheelchair-accessible and provide connectivity to the Waller Creek area.

The Butler Trail sees 2.6 million visits a year, according to statistics from the Trail Foundation, and that number is expected to increase as more people move to Austin.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Phoenix police officer, gunman critical after shootout
Phoenix police officer, gunman critical after shootout

A Phoenix police officer and the driver of a car he was attempting to stop were in critical condition early Friday after exchanging gunfire, KNXV reported. >> Read more trending news  Authorities said the officer was attempting a traffic stop but the driver initially refused to stop, the television station reported. The driver finally...
Man asks Manhattan clerk, 'Are you Arabic?' before punching him
Man asks Manhattan clerk, 'Are you Arabic?' before punching him

A man asked a bodega clerk in Manhattan “Are you Arabic?” before punching the surprised man in the face, The New York Daily News reported.  >> Read more trending news  The man asked the question on Aug. 9 at the Green Olive Deli around 10 a.m., police said. Surveillance videos do not show the punch being thrown, but...
UPDATE: 21-year-old man dead after police shooting in downtown Austin
UPDATE: 21-year-old man dead after police shooting in downtown Austin

6:15 a.m. update: A 21-year-old man died early Friday after eight Austin police officers shot at in an alley of Sixth Street in downtown Austin. Assistant Chief Troy Gay said police opened fire on the man behind the Terminal 6 bar at around 1 a.m. Several disturbances were reported at the club, including one in the alley where shots were fired...
FDA cautions some people using pets to obtain opioids
FDA cautions some people using pets to obtain opioids

Pet owners could be stealing opioids that were meant for their pets, according to a statement Wednesday from Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. >> Read more trending news  “We recognize that opioids and other pain medications have a legitimate and important role in treating pain in animals...
Multiple students arrested after brawl at Indianapolis high school
Multiple students arrested after brawl at Indianapolis high school

Thirteen students were arrested after a brawl Thursday at an Indianapolis high school, the Indianapolis Star reported. >> Read more trending news  The fight, witnessed by more than 100 students, occurred at Arsenal Tech High School, WXIN reported. Authorities said no weapons were involved during the fight, which began inside the...
More Stories