Pontoon bridge could open like a gate
$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.