A Sister Bridge
Bicyclists, Peds to Have Own Path Across River
The bike-ped bridge will be built parallel to and about 150 to 275 feet east of the existing Lamar bridge. Plans call for the river crossing to provide access to and from various points surrounding the bridge. People driving north on the existing Lamar bridge will be able to look toward downtown and the see the foot bridge at eye level.
Kinney and city officials say one of the main attractions of the new bridge will be the full view of the Lamar bridge, which often goes overlooked except by boaters and those who use the riverside trails. The bicycle-pedestrian bridge will feature designated sections where people can stand and gaze out onto the water. Kinney said he hopes it will become a meeting place, away from the constant roar of traffic and fumes of Lamar Blvd. "Maybe people will come out with an easel and paint, fish off the bridge, or walk down to the water," Kinney says. "We're talking about all the things the Lamar bridge can be. It will no longer be just a conveyance of people, but a place in itself. Hopefully it will become a destination."
Richard Kroger, project manager in the city's Public Works and Transportation Department, said the city has about $7 million to spend on the bridge. The funding dates back to a 1984 bond election that provided for arterial roadway improvements. This is the same pool of money that is also funding the future Barton Springs Road renovation (see "Bumpy Road," Vol. 17, No.36), which will either install a center turn lane or a series of raised medians. The city has also obtained over $950,000 in federal funds through the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, which provides grants to cities for special roadway enhancement projects.
Although many bicyclists and pedestrians who use the bridge said they would welcome their own pathway over the river, others said the city should first focus on the existing bridge itself. Michael Issa, who is a regular jogger on the hike and bike trail, said the city's first priority should be alleviating the traffic headache on Lamar before it worries about bicyclists and pedestrians.
"I don't think them spending money on a bridge for pedestrians and bikers is money well spent," said Issa. "Why don't they try to widen the lanes or do something else for the cars because the traffic here on Lamar is just terrible. I think that by itself would ease up the car traffic and make room for pedestrians and bikers at the same time."
Kroger said the 1984 bond proposal called for a pedestrian-bicycle bridge, even though traffic wasn't as bad 12 years ago as it now is. There also was debate back then about widening the bridge, but the city backed off when it realized a wider bridge would do nothing for the congested intersections at Fifth and Sixth streets.
A longtime transportation fixture in Austin, the Lamar Bridge was built in 1941 and 1942 as a Works Progress Administration project for about $300,000. It was under construction at the onslaught of World War II, and was later designated as part of the wartime military highway network, which allowed its builders, Cage Brothers and L.A. Turner of Bastrop, to obtain the extra steel for the bridge's completion.
Because its late art deco style structure has been maintained and is still completely intact, the Texas Historical Commission named the bridge a historic site in 1994. It is also the last remaining bridge of this architectural style in the state highway system that has not been modified, looking pretty much the way it did when Girard Kinney used to fish there as a kid.