An old stretch of Red River Street running along Waterloo Park downtown is in line for safety upgrades in the weeks ahead. City planners are also hoping the roadway can soon be revamped as a permanent public plaza.

The big picture

Red River's recent transition has been tied to several developments in the Innovation District in downtown's northeast corner.

Major updates around the health care-centric area in recent years include:Previously, Red River ran alongside Waterloo Park to its disjointed connection with 15th Street. It then moved past that intersection north through the UT campus and curved east toward I-35 on its path through the LBJ Presidential Library.

As Central Health worked on its redevelopment and UT opened the Moody Center, Red River Street was targeted for realignment into a straightened north-south route connecting downtown to North Central Austin.

With that change, several blocks of the former road are now closed off and could be expanded for public uses as there is "tremendous opportunity" for the space there, Capital Improvement Program Manager Anne Milne said.

What's happening

Today, most of the old portion of Red River Street between 12th and 15th streets is shut down to vehicles, with some space still open for parking. The area is also used for queuing around larger events at Waterloo.

Austin's Transportation and Public Works Department, or TPW, is now pursuing several improvements to close down the street for public uses, improve safety and eventually transform some of the vacant road into a new public amenity.

In the next few weeks, the transportation department will install safety barriers along a portion of the street to keep out vehicle traffic. A series of limestone blocks and gate bollards will cost about $30,000 pulled from TPW's capital funds
Safety improvements are coming to an old stretch of Red River Street. (Courtesy city of Austin)
Safety improvements are coming to an old stretch of Red River Street. (Courtesy city of Austin)
Transportation staff say the changes will help people move through the area, especially for bigger park events.

Any changes will be made without conflict for events during Austin's spring festival season including South by Southwest, according to staff.

What's next

With those upgrades in the works, next steps will involve formal planning for a public plaza that has been envisioned for that stretch of Red River for years.

“Once [the area is] secured, we can start moving forward looking at future phases," Milne said Feb. 21. "We’re certainly looking at what I consider temporary cheap improvements that can be done quickly. We can try different things for different seasons, different approaches. We also definitely want to have a long-term solution that will create a public amenity that enhances active transportation, but also the sense of space and community in downtown.”

The transportation department plans for community engagement and input from stakeholder organizations including the Waterloo Greenway, Downtown Austin Alliance, Central Health and UT. City officials also plan to hire a consultant to develop a clearer concept for the plaza.

"Consultant services would augment staff to develop a detailed scope; designs; phased implementation plan; and operation and maintenance plan. At this time, the funding source and budget are still being determined," transportation spokesperson Brad Cesak said.

For now, staff will be working out the details of the area's new safety upgrades. An exact timeline and budget for the installations hasn't yet been determined.

Austin and Central Health are also still hashing out an agreement to hand over most of the city's Old Red River roadway between 14th and 15th streets to the hospital district, a planned trade-off for its development of the new straightened roadway nearby.