Several downtown business owners gathered at El Monumento on March 22 to discuss the possible repair or replacement of the Austin Avenue bridges that span the north and south forks of the San Gabriel rivers.
The city will begin a public involvement process for the bridges project, which could determine whether the city repairs or replaces the two historic structures.
In 2014 the Texas Department of Transportation placed load-bearing limits on the bridges after structural deficiencies were found during an inspection in December 2013. Problems included asphalt cracking, rusting and crumbling portions of concrete, according to a report by engineering firm Aguirre & Fields.
Business owners in downtown said they fear total replacement could negatively affect their businesses by limiting access to downtown.
In January the council approved a contract with Aguirre & Fields to complete preliminary design alternatives, environmental services and conduct public input meetings related to the bridges. The first public meeting will be March 31 from 4-7 p.m. in the Georgetown Public Library, 402 W. Eighth St.
“We have been very concerned about changes being discussed,” said downtown business owner Patti Colbert.
Sam Pfiester, a downtown property owner and former Georgetown City Council member, helped organize the March 22 meeting and said he was concerned changes to the bridge could make the city less pedestrian-friendly.
“We asked the council to delay spending any more money until we get more assessments,” he said adding that he believes the bridges need maintenance and repair rather than to be replaced.
Pfiester said he had spoken with several engineers and transportation professionals who said if the city proceeded with completing repairs to the bridges total replacement would not be necessary.
"My guys said with the right repairs, [the bridges could last] 50 to 60 more years," Pfeister said.
The city is expected to receive two additional reports from two consulting engineering firms this spring, Georgetown Project Manager Nat Waggoner said.
“We have a big task ahead to determine the best solution that supports those quality of life issues for our community,” Waggoner said in a statement. “Working with the public and downtown property owners to collect input is a major part of this project.”
The city’s study will evaluate short-term and long-term solutions as well as look at possible alternatives while considering safety, historical significance, cost, impacts to property and business owners and multimodal access to San Gabriel Park, according to a city news release.
More information, including project materials and reports, can be found online at http://austinave.georgetown.org.
Three additional public meetings will be held throughout the summer and fall, and a recommendation of a proposed solution could be presented to City Council in fall or winter 2016.