The trail beneath the north side of the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge will soon undergo a major facelift.

The Trail Foundation, an Austin nonprofit that works to protect and improve the Ann and Roy Butler Hike & Bike Trail along Lady Bird Lake, announced Nov. 6 a $2.5 million trail improvement project that will replace aging infrastructure underneath Congress Avenue with a new bridge. The will result in improved ADA accessibility, a wider trail—from 6 feet to 14 feet in some portions—and beautification efforts in an area that has remained the same for roughly 40 years, TTF Executive Director Susan Rankin said.

The new bridge will also include a bat observation landing so onlookers do not get in the way of trail users, Rankin said.

Existing Congress Avenue trail bridge The Trail Foundation has proposed replacing this trail bridge underneath the Congress Avenue bridge with a new, wider boardwalk.[/caption]

"With the increased use of the trail, that narrow pinch point has become more of an issue," Rankin said. "There is also a blind curve, so there have been lots of collisions and lots of near-misses."

The existing bridge will remain open during construction, which will not occur until after the fundraising goal has been met and permits have been pulled, she said, putting the project on a summer 2017 completion timeline.

The project is already halfway funded, according to TTF, thanks to a $1.25 million donation from Robert F. Smith, founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners in Austin. Matching money will be raised by TTF in a fundraising campaign that officially kicked off Nov. 6 as part of the organization’s State of the Trail event held at the W Austin Hotel.

Rankin said such matching funds have proven to be a huge boost during past TTF fundraising campaigns.

"I think people want to be part of something bigger than themselves and give back to the trail, but they also want to be on a winning team, and that's what this is," she said.

During the State of the Trail event, Rankin also outlined her organization’s ecological restoration efforts along Lady Bird Lake, with up to $100,000 to $150,000 in work slated for next year alone. Efforts include various conservation projects, such as planting native trees, seeding wildflowers and removing invasive, non-native tree species from the trail.

More information about this project and other trail improvement efforts can be found at the TTF website.