Austin
2:25 pm
Fri August 17, 2012

426 Austin Bridges are 'Good' or 'Excellent' - But This One Isn't

It may be time for a do-over on the Emmett Shelton bridge.  

Better known as the Red Bud bridge or the "Low Water" bridge, it spans Lady Bird Lake just below Tom Miller Dam, linking Austin to newer communities to the west.

The city's latest proposed bond package includes $3 million to design a "better bridge at a better angle" across the lake, according to Austin Public Works spokesperson Sara Hartley. She says the bridge is the only one in Austin that is not rated structurally "good" or better, though she says its rating of "fair" means that it is safe to travel.

The narrow bridge, with its steep approaches, has been the site of many traffic accidents.  Hartley says the new bridge plan calls for two lanes, one in each direction, with pedestrian and bike lanes as well. (You can read the city's information about the bridge here.)

As conceived, the city estimates construction costs at $12 million. The current bridge would be kept open during construction, which could take up to 10 years.

Council approved the $3 million over objections from council member Laura Morrison, who proposed spending $500 thousand on a feasibility study instead.

Morrison tells KUT News she's not convinced the plan can be successfully implemented against a complex matrix of overlapping environmental regulations and development plans. She says those issues need to be worked out before spending money on design.

Across the bridge from Austin, the city of West Lake Hills welcomes a new, safer bridge, says Mayor Dave Claunch – as long as it doesn't add to traffic in the community of 3,000 residents.

Claunch says "it will be difficult for the existing infrastructure to absorb additional traffic."

Although popular perception is that the bridge serves the residents of West Lake Hills, Mayor Claunch says that, in his opinion, most bridge traffic is going to the parts of Austin that lie on the west bank of the lake, nearby unincorporated areas, Davenport Village, Rollingwood, and other communities like Barton Creek, Lost Creek, and Bee Cave.

The current bridge was built in 1948.