December 3, 2007 Update:

Please download and sign this petition, get everyone you know to sign it too, then send it back to the address on the bottom. Or, sign the on-line bridge petition then pass the link along to your friends. Thanks.

On November 28th, we received an email from Steve Manilla, the Travis County engineer for this area, with a clarification. Attached to his email were the minutes to a meeting of county and state representatives that had been held on November 15th. In response to Steve's email and the attached minutes, I sent him what I knew about the historical designation efforts (getting a few things wrong myself). Our neighbor sue Barnett also responded to Steve's correspondence to set the record straight and he wrote back. Here's Sue's note with Steve's response.

October 10, 2007

One day last week, while on our morning walk, Annie and I encountered 2 guys who had parked their white (unmarked) SUV on the Hammett's Crossing bridge. One of them had a badge hanging from his pocket that said Texas Department of Transportation. The other had no such badge (probably because he had remembered to remove his while the other guy hadn't). I asked what they were doing there and they told us that they were surveyors, there to survey the bridge.

Immediately concerned that they might be trying to do something stupid, like build a new bridge, I sounded the neighborhood alarm and Christy Muse of the Hill Country Alliance got right on it and made some calls. But she had to leave town so Nell Penridge took over the research. From emails and discussions with Michael Aulick at the City of Austin, Steven Sheibel in Senator Kirk Watson's office, Senator Watson himself, Steven Manila at Travis County (512-854-9429), Bob Daigh at TxDOT and Joe Perez, TxDOT's design manager for the proposed project (512-832-7092), here's what Nell found out:

The feds have a mechanism to fund the replacement of "structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges". Apparently, the Hammett's bridge has been accused of being the latter.

Now our little historic bridge, which has been pounded by the Pedernales since it was built by neighbors in 1924, is still in fine shape. Even the record-setting 1950s flood, when an immense wall of water and logs came crashing downstream, taking out huge cypresses and the entire pecan bottom adjacent to the crossing, was unable to damage that stalwart bridge. But, because it has inadequate side rails and the approaches are curvey, it is slated for replacement.

The plan, according to TxDOT's Joe Perez, is to build a new, two lane bridge, "adjacent to and slightly upstream of the existing crossing." The intent is to eliminate the switchbacks on both sides of the river. Perez told Nell that the alignment will not be established until the survey data is all in so all this conjecture might be premature but if eliminating all the switchbacks is the goal, I just do not see how situating the new bridge upstream of the current bridge would accomplish that.

Hammett's Crossing with arrows
The green arrow wouldn't even eliminate the east side switchback but it would cut out the big west approach curve.

On the left is an aerial view of the crossing. The river runs from bottom to top (the bottom of the map is upstream). It looks to me like the place I drew in the red arrow is where they would really bypass all the switchbacks. But that is substantially downstream of the existing bridge.

The Blue arrow would put the new bridge upstream of the existing bridge and would cut out one mother of a switch-back on the east side of the river, as well as the curve on the west side bridge approach.

The idea is not to remove the old bridge but to make it a pedestrian walkway. This is scary. Right now, the main pedestrian use of the bridge is by Annie and me, our neighbors John and Hillary and occassional tourists who must park illegally to walk there. Does this projected pedestrian bridge get a parking lot now? If so, where? I just don't see a lot of room for one unless they are planning to condemn more property for that use. That could be an invitation to trespassers around here. And if they are not planning parking, could they be making the pedestrian bridge for we four daily walkers? Somehow I doubt it.

No matter how you slice it, all this construction and land condemnation would cost big bucks, right? But Nell's sources have told her that the entire budget for this project is just $1,000,000. Doesn't seem like enough to buy the land, let alone build a huge bridge. And the federal dollars are only available for bridges, not road work, so any work beyond the immediate bridge approaches would have to be funded by the state or county,

If we hadn't run into those surveyors, we probably would still not know anything about this project, even though it has been in the works since TxDOT went to the Travis County Commissioners for permission in July. Pretty hush hush for a public works project, no? I suspect they've been trying to sneak this under the radar. In fact, when Nell called Senator Watson's office, she found out that, even though the Senator is chair of CAMPO, he knew nothing about this stealth project. He did find out pretty quickly after that though, and sent this email to a couple of people in response to their inquiries.

The federal program would provide 80% of the bridge replacement cost. Under the plan, the state would pay 10% and the county would be responsible for 10%. Now, where will TxDOT, the agency that cannot build any more roads that are not tolled, find their portion of the funding? And where will the Travis County Commissioners, who constantly plead poverty, find their part?

Besides, I find it totally outrageous that anyone might budget a project of this magnitude at just $1,000,000. The owners of Las Manitas have projected a higher budget than that just to move their restaurant into new digs that they already own! And they have created this budget without even knowing where the bridge is going to go. I smell bait and switch. You know the routine - begin by lowballing then the overruns begin.

Two more things: Joe Perez told Nell that "there will be opportunity for public input in several months" and TxDOT told Senator Watson that "if the county does not want the improvements to be made, TxDOT will back off."

So let's keep an eye on this and make sure that nothing else gets snuck past us again.

October 12, 2007 - Surveying preparations are moving too quickly. What ever happened to the old TxDOT who we could count on to drag out any project for as much as 10 years? Have they finished Ben White and I-35 yet?

ZWA, Inc., a surveying company with many state contracts, had a crew of several guys out here to begin the preparations for the survey.

Their first step was to prepare these markers, into which they stamp identifying numbers that correspond to survey points on the map.

Then they dug holes and set those marker plates in concrete in the holes.
They set up GPS units to check the coordinates and spray painted info on the road about where they would set the markers.

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