AUSTIN (KXAN) — For more than 20 years, City of Austin officials have flagged the Barton Springs Road Bridge as one of the highest priority bridges in need of rehabilitation or replacement. Now, staff are asking Austin City Council to greenlight design work on a total replacement for the nearly 100-year-old bridge as its conditions continue to wane.
The Barton Springs Road Bridge was first built in 1926 as a two-lane bridge before it was expanded in 1946. Today, approximately 20,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day, which is a key access point into and out of Zilker Park.
Over the years, officials have worked to maintain the bridge and expand its lifespan. However, with the amount of time it takes to design and engineer any sort of improvements on the structure, city leaders said Tuesday time is of the essence.
“As a professional engineer, I’m concerned,” said Robert Goode, an interim assistant city manager.
Council was poised to take a vote on the recommendation at its Nov. 30 meeting. That vote was postponed amid some public feedback concerning the bridge’s historic legacy, environmental factors related to it, as well as the bridge’s affiliation with Zilker Park’s designation as a historic district.
On Thursday, council will again host a public hearing and consider authorizing the start of design work on the project. Eric Bailey, acting deputy director of the city’s Capital Delivery Services Department, said a preliminary engineering report resulted in the recommendation for a total bridge replacement, which will up its useful lifespan by about 75 years. The costs for a total replacement versus a full rehabilitation are roughly the same, with anticipated construction and soft costs for a replacement estimated at $37 million.
Bailey said the bridge doesn’t currently pose a public safety risk, but it could become one down the road and result in restrictions on bus and heavy vehicle access if no action is taken. He added some of the existing issues with the bridge include spalling concrete, delineation of beams, cracks in the deck and curbs and railings that don’t meet current ADA standards.
If council approves the start of design work, officials said that is estimated to cost roughly $10 million, coming from 2020 mobility bond dollars. City leaders would need to come back to council for approval of construction work before any efforts begin, Bailey added.
Traffic across the bridge will be maintained throughout the possible future construction work, Bailey said, with tentative plans for a replacement process including working on the outer lanes first before working on the inner ones. A city memo in late November outlined possible timelines for the improvements, with design and permitting phases estimated to run from 2024 to 2026 and a tentative construction start date in 2026.