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How Austin's Growth and Project Connect Could Impact the City's Bats

Caleb Bryant-Miller/KUT News
People gather on the Congress Avenue Bridge to watch the bats fly out in the evenings - but what happens if something is built in their flight path?

The bats that roost under the Congress Avenue Bridge have a hard-flown journey after their nightly show for tourists and passersby.

They cruise over the trees bordering Lady Bird Lake's southern shore – flying up to 40 miles away from the city every night – then come back, roost and feast on insects between Congress Avenue and I-35.

But part of Austin’s new urban rail plan includes building a bridge just four blocks east of Congress, which conservationists say could affect the flight path and food source of the iconic Austin attraction.

Mylea Bayless says the bridge could be a problem. She's the director of conservation at Bat Conservation International here in Austin. Bayless says she has requested to meet with the city about the planned bridge.

“If we put a train track on the east side of the bridge, and the train was just there intermittently, I think the bats would just fly right over the tops of the train tracks and then if the train came through I think we’d have some problems,” Bayless says.

The city says the rail plans are still in the early stages.

“The Project Connect team would meet with any conservation groups and stakeholders as part of an environmental process that could launch in 2015,” Project Connect spokesperson Cheyenne Krause says. “To date the team has not with any of the bat conservation groups.”

Bat Conservation International says it is not just a potential rail bridge that may cause interference with bats. Bayless says there are also a few things that downtown building developers should consider when constructing near the bats.

“During the construction if you’ve got people moving in on the lower floors while you’re still building the upper floors, you keep all the open interior spaces closed off so if you’re in the middle of a bat flight you don’t have bats entering construction zones and coming into contact with people,” Bayless says.

Austin is now home to the world’s largest urban bat colony, and with that comes notoriety and tourists. Bayless says the good news is that Mexican free tail bats are pretty adaptable.

“The fact that they’re living in an urban area under a bridge surrounded by lights and noise and people really tells us that they’re adaptable unlike a lot of other bat species which can’t do that,” Bayless says.

Bayless says as long as Austin keeps them in mind, the bats should be able to roll with the city’s booming growth.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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