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New federal cash paves way for East Austin's 'wishbone' bridge over Lady Bird Lake

An overhead illustration of the wishbone bridge. The bridge connects will Longhorn Shores, Canterbury Park and an unnamed peninsula in Lady Bird Lake. The existing pedestrian bridge from the peninsula to Canterbury Street will be removed.
City of Austin
The bridge will connect will Longhorn Shores, Canterbury Park and an unnamed peninsula in Lady Bird Lake. The existing pedestrian bridge from the peninsula to Canterbury Street — indicated by the letter C — will be removed.

Facing a steep climb in costs for a long-planned pedestrian bridge on the eastern edge of Austin's most popular trail, the city has finally found a path forward with a $4 million cash infusion from the federal government.

The new money will close a budget shortfall and allow the city to start contracting builders for the $25 million project on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail.

The unique, three-pronged bridge will connect Longhorn Shores, Canterbury Park and an unnamed peninsula in Lady Bird Lake. The wishbone-shaped span — the first of its kind in Austin — will have a 76-foot-wide plaza at its center with benches, bike racks, ornamental trees and shade structures.

An illustration looking down on a plaza at the center of a three-pronged bridge featuring benches, bike racks, ornamental trees and shade structures.
City of Austin
The 76-foot wide plaza at its center of the bridge will feature benches, bike racks, ornamental trees and shade structures.

The plaza will feature public artwork by an artist who hasn't yet been named publicly. Through a competitive application process, the city initially selected Houston artist Dixie Friend Gay — known for her installations at places like George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Sam Houston State University and the Port of Miami — but she declined the contract, City of Austin spokesperson Robert Allen said.

As part of the project, a 6-foot-wide pedestrian tunnel under Pleasant Valley Road will be replaced with a more spacious 30-foot-wide tunnel with a 16-foot-wide sidewalk, better lighting and a higher, arched ceiling.

A before and after image of the pedestrian tunnel that goes under Pleasant Valley Road. The image on the left is a rectangular-shaped tunnel with six-foot wide sidewalk and a ceiling about 7-feet tall. The illustration on the right shows a 16-foot wide pedestrian tunnel with a ceiling more than 10 feet tall. Lighting from the ground illuminates the arched ceiling of the tunnel.
Nathan Bernier/KUT News
Nathan Bernier/KUT News (left), City of Austin
Plans call for replacing the 6-foot-wide pedestrian tunnel under Pleasant Valley road (left) with an arched, 30-foot-wide tunnel with better lighting.

In 2019, early cost estimates pegged the bridge at under $13 million. The following year, voters approved a transportation bond that included $20 million for the project. But escalating costs and an expanded scope that includes more sidewalk improvements pushed the budget higher.

The $4.1 million federal grant that fills the funding gap was locked in with the help of Congressman Greg Casar, D-Austin, who was a City Council member during the project's inception in 2018.

Five years later, Casar stood on the shores of Lady Bird Lake and handed a giant $4 million symbolic check to Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, surrounded by city officials and representatives of BikeTexas and the Trail Conservancy, which will oversee the bridge's maintenance.

An aerial view showing the area over Lady Bird Lake where the wishbone bridge will be installed.
Nathan Bernier
KUT News
The wishbone bridge will be installed in this part of Lady Bird Lake, connecting Longhorn Shores, Canterbury Park and an unnamed peninsula.

"It is going to not just rival, but I think beat out any other bridge in the city for how beautiful it's going to be," Casar said Thursday. "You're going to see people getting proposed to on this bridge. You're going to see folks playing live music on this bridge. It is really going to be a special place."

The city applied for the grant last year. Casar pushed it through a process called Community Project Funding — a program intended to be a more transparent version of earmarking, in which Congress members direct money to pet projects in their home districts. Casar's office secured $15 million for 14 projects across his district.

Each year, more than 5 million people use the 10-mile Butler Trail that encircles Lady Bird Lake, according to the Trail Conservancy. But the trail's eastern end has long reflected the city's historical neglect of East Austin.

To cross the lake, pedestrians and cyclists had to detour to the Pleasant Valley Road Bridge, which until a few years ago was a harrowing passageway with a narrow sidewalk, chain-link fence and low guardrails.

Two people are running along a narrow sidewalk over a bridge. Chainlink fence separates pedestrians from cars. A low guard rail was the only thing prevent people from falling in the lake.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
KUT News
For decades, the eastern end of the Butler Trail detoured to this narrow sidewalk along the Pleasant Valley Bridge, which traverses the Longhorn Dam that creates Lady Bird Lake. In 2021, the city widened the sidewalk to 12-feet and added another 8-foot-wide sidewalk on the east side of the bridge.

In 2021, the city made "interim improvements" to the bridge, expanding the western sidewalk to 12 feet and adding an 8-foot sidewalk on the east side of the bridge.

The new wishbone bridge will mean pedestrians and cyclists won't have to be anywhere close to cars.

"It has not been the safest environment," Austin's Transportation and Public Works Director Richard Mendoza told KUT News. "We've done some mitigating improvements, but it's really not the permanent solution."

A present-day view of the Pleasant Valley Bridge over Lady Bird Lake showing the 12-foot-wide sidewalk on the west side of the bridge and the 8-foot-wide sidewalk on the east side of the bridge.
Nathan Bernier
KUT News
Sidewalks over the Pleasant Valley Bridge were widened in 2021.

"This bridge is the permanent solution to fully complete the Roy Butler Trail," he said. "It's going to be a destination, a gathering place for our community, especially the East Austin community."

Construction is expected to start this year, with the bridge projected to open in 2026.

Mose Buchele contributed to this report.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Houston artist Dixie Friend Gay declined the contract to install public artwork on the bridge after being selected through a competitive application process.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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