Pon­toon bridge could open like a gate

Wear

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - B Waller creek con­ser­vancy Con­tact Ben Wear at bwear@states­man.com; 445-3698.

$146 mil­lion flood con­trol tun­nel deep be­neath the creek, sched­uled to be com­plete in 2014. The idea is that once that tun­nel is in place be­tween Water­loo Park (north of East 12th Street) and Lady Bird Lake, the down­town sec­tion of Waller Creek will be flood­proof and ripe for re­de­vel­op­ment.

Sev­eral months ago, I looked at some ren­der­ings. One draw­ing of where the creek flows into the lake east of Congress Av­enue — an or­nate ren­der­ing straight from the Hud­son Val­ley school of paint­ing — showed what looked like a bridge across the lake. I as­sumed it was the ur­ban rail bridge that the city Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment has pro­posed for roughly that same spot.

Nope. If you look closely, it shows a wa­ter­level pon­toon bridge (with space enough un­der­neath for sculls and other small boats to pass) that would open and close like a gate in a picket fence, and would con­nect at its south­ern tip to the board­walk trail now un­der con­struc­tion. Stephanie McDon­ald, the con­ser­vancy’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, told me the cur­rent think­ing has the bridge open­ing and clos­ing a cou­ple of times a day. I twit you not.

A bridge like this does in fact ex­ist, on Cu­ra­cao, an is­land off of Venezuela. So there.

Any­way, McDon­ald told me the city’s trans­porta­tion folks, with their rail bridge in mind, are not ex­actly big fans of the pon­toon bridge idea. A spokes­woman with the city’s Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment, ap­prised of our con­ver­sa­tion, said, no, de­part­ment Di­rec­tor Rob Spil­lar could see do­ing both. But city of­fi­cials have said the rail bridge would prob­a­bly in­clude bus lanes as well as side­walks for walking and bik­ing. Why have both bridges?

Well, any­way, the ur­ban rail plan is still just that, a plan, and un­funded and un­ap­proved by the pub­lic, and sub­ject to change. So maybe in the end the pon­toon bridge wouldn’t have a com­peti­tor for that stretch of the river.

Or maybe there won’t be a pon­toon bridge at all. But if there is, a bunch of you can say you heard it here first.

To re­turn to gon­do­las for a sec­ond, a caller last week let me know that McDaniel is not the first to sug­gest some­thing along that line for Austin. Ac­cord­ing to a 1957 ar­ti­cle in the Austin States­man, in the 1870s, an Austin doc­tor and in­ven­tor named G.P. Hachen­berg, ap­par­ently frus­trated by the heavy horse-and­buggy traf­fic clog­ging city streets, sug­gested a sys­tem of one-per­son, open-air ve­hi­cles that would be sus­pended on tele­graph wires and go all the way to a “neigh­bor­ing vil­lage.” The ar­ti­cle spec­u­lated that meant Round Rock or Buda.

A sketch from that era shows a bowler-hat­ted man pi­lot­ing Hachen­berg’s bike­like con­trap­tion along a dual set of wires, one above the ve­hi­cle and one be­low, with wheels aligned on each wire. The man, in a way that is not clear, is pro­pel­ling the ve­hi­cle.

It didn’t hap­pen, of course. But Austin, af­ter all, is in­creas­ingly a bi­cy­cle town. Put it on the list with the gon­do­las and the pon­toons.

The win­ner of a re­cent de­sign com­pe­ti­tion for what to do with 1 1/2 miles of Waller Creek sug­gested a pon­toon bridge across Lady Bird Lake. The bridge floats on the water and would con­nect to the board­walk trail now un­der con­struc­tion.

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