The city of Austin has kicked off a program aimed at improving access to visitors at Zilker Metropolitan Park and Zilker Botanical Garden.

The multistage project began in January with work on what Austin Public Works labeled as an "intimidating" 0.7-mile stretch of Barton Springs Road between MoPac and the botanical garden entrance. Phase 1 of the city's Zilker improvements will add new shared-use pathways along that roadway with landscaped buffers between vehicles and pedestrians and cyclists.

The work will also upgrade Capital Metro bus stations on both sides of the road and add a new crosswalk and hybrid beacon outside the botanical garden entrance.

The second phase of Zilker improvements is aimed at a longer portion of road across the garden. Stratford Drive will be receiving a new shared-use path between its intersection at Barton Springs Road and the Austin Nature & Science Center entrance west of MoPac.

Finally, Phase 3 of the mobility initiative will connect the Barton Springs and Stratford pathways.

“The shared use path will greatly improve safety and access to the area, especially since many people who visit Zilker Botanical Garden arrive on foot, by bicycle or via the bus,” said Cynthia Klemmer, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department's environmental conservation program manager, in a statement.

Funding for the three-step process comes from several city sources including Austin's 2016 and 2020 mobility bonds, the botanical garden, and CapMetro and Austin City Council District 8's interlocal Quarter Cent funding program for mobility improvements.

“I am so excited to put my district's Quarter Cent funding to work in this way,” said Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis, council's District 8 representative. “Giving our residents more options for getting around safely is a top priority for my office. Improving this stretch of Barton Springs Road will make a huge difference in unlocking access to Zilker Park for families, people with disabilities, and transit riders in South Austin and beyond.”

The project is proceeding under indefinite contracts, meaning a full cost has not yet been established. APW spokesperson Emily Smith said the department expects Phase 1 will cost around $650,000.

A crew works to form and pour the section of shared use path just west of the Zilker Botanical Garden entrance on Barton Springs Road. (Courtesy Austin Public Works)

The city expects work on all three phases to last between 12 and 18 months. Austin Public Works said both Barton Springs Road and Stratford Drive will remain open during construction, with some traffic slowdowns or alerts anticipated.

“This project is a great example of the importance of collaboration,” APW interim Director James Snow said. “Our staff is always looking for ways to leverage and stretch the Mobility Bond dollars to go further. Our partners are helping us take this from a straightforward safety project to a beautiful, green community benefit.”

Work on the accessibility improvements on the park's west side comes ahead of the proposed replacement of the nearly 100-year-old Barton Springs bridge to the east. Community members may weigh in on those plans here.

Additionally, the city is working to finalize a long-range vision plan for the future of Zilker Park centered on mobility, ecology, recreation, development and other priorities. More information on the vision planning process is available from the city as a final outline nears consideration by city boards, commissions and council.