Trail Foundation announces plans for new span beneath Congress Bridge

The Trail Foundation officials have announced plans for a new over-the-water section of trail beneath the Ann Richards-Congress Avenue Bridge. This rendering shows what it will look like. Courtesy The Trail Foundation

The Trail Foundation officials have announced plans for a new over-the-water section of trail beneath the Ann Richards-Congress Avenue Bridge. This rendering shows what it will look like. Courtesy The Trail Foundation

A year and a half after the opening of the boardwalk, a stretch of the Butler Trail along the north shore of Lady Bird Lake is preparing for a makeover.

A new 264-foot section of the hike-and-bike trail will extend over the water for 184 feet. The span will eliminate a blind corner and make that portion of the trail accessible to those with disabilities. It will include a jutted-out viewing area where people can watch residents of the city’s famous bat colony emerge on summer nights.

The $2.5-million project is expected to open in about two years. A concept design is finished and contractors are working on construction drawings. When they are done, The Trail Foundation will select a contractor. Construction will take another nine to 12 months.

“It’s not going to be a mini-boardwalk,” said Susan Rankin, executive director of The Trail Foundation, which works to enhance and protect the Butler Trail. “It is over water and it is 14-foot wide, but it’s more streamlined and simply curved. This is designed so it doesn’t compete with or distract from the historic Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge.”

The existing trail, shown here, is narrow and has a blind corner. Photo courtesy The Trail Foundation

The existing trail, shown here, is narrow and has a blind corner. Photo courtesy The Trail Foundation

A local donor, Robert F. Smith, founder and chief executive officer of Vista Equity Partners, has already committed $1.25 million to help fund the project. The Trail Foundation will raise another $1.25 million in a matching campaign.

No tax money will be used for the project, and city of Austin Public Works, Parks and Recreation Department and Watershed Protection officials will collaborate to review and approve all plans.

Foundation officials looked at factors including safety, trail user input and funding sources when they selected the span as its next major project.

“In this instance, what’s key is safety,” Rankin says. “(The existing trail) is only 6-feet wide and has a blind curve – you cannot see who’s coming.”

The plank construction of the existing path in that spot also makes it inaccessible to those with disabilities. “This is the most unsafe place on the trail from our perspective,” Rankin says.

The improvements are needed because as the city’s population has increased, so has trail usage. A 2011 study found that about 2,400 people used one part of the trail between 9 and 11 a.m. on a busy Saturday morning. New automatic counters being installed along the trail later this year will allow officials to determine more current usage, but Rankin says it’s up since the boardwalk beneath Interstate 35 opened in June 2014.

For more information about The Trail Foundation go here.

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