The final vehicle passed over an 80-year-old steel truss bridge in the Montopolis community of East Austin around 10:45 a.m. Monday morning, marking an historic change for the iconic structure.
Built in 1938, the 1,221-foot truss bridge over the Colorado River is on the National Register of Historic Places. Wanting to preserve the historic bridge’s history and importance in the Montopolis community, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority decided to preserve the bridge for use by bicyclists, pedestrians and community events.
“I could see arts and crafts [booths]on one side, and people on the other,” said Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the Mobility Authority, which is overseeing the $750 million US 183 South project.
The project includes adding three tolled lanes in each direction to US 183 between Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 71 as well as maintaining three nontolled lanes in each direction. The agency will spend about $20 million in bicycle and pedestrian improvements, including 16 miles of bike lanes, 10 miles of a shared-use path and 7 miles of sidewalks.
The northern part of the 183 South project will open in August 2019 and the southern portion will open in August 2020. Construction began in May 2016.
Mobility Authority board Chairman Ray Wilkerson said the agency did not question the need to preserve the bridge and keep it. He said the community is excited to retain the bridge for a new use.
“What the capacity of the volume of the road needs to be that bridge could never handle it,” he said.
Final plans for the Montopolis bridge will include input from the community and have to be approved by the Texas Historical Commission. Concepts so far include refurbishing and repainting the bridge and adding landscaping and other amenities to create a “park-like” space, Wilkerson said.
State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, whose District 51 includes the Montopolis neighborhood, said he drove the bridge nearly every day and felt honored to be able to take the last drive across the bridge that has served as a connection between South and North Austin and across East Austin.
“It’s iconic for all of Austin but it’s particularly iconic for the Montopolis neighborhood right here in East Austin,” he said. “Maintaining and keeping it open not only for pedestrians and other uses, it’s important because it’s symbolic of how important this community is to all of Austin.”
The 183 South project, he said, is also representative of what the future holds for this part of East Austin, which has historically been overlooked.
“It’s hard to say this part of East Austin is overlooked anymore,” Rodriguez said. “I think this is just an example of how this community is being noticed and the value this community brings to the rest of Austin.”