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Southtown residents oppose proposed river improvement

Southtown is in a tizzy again. This time, it’s not First Friday revelers who are a burr under its saddle, but a proposed multi-million-dollar pedestrian bridge.

The bridge, part of the San Antonio River Authority’s Eagleland Project, would span the river behind Brackenridge High School. But it is bumping up against opposition from the South St. Mary’s/South Alamo Street Historic District (which, some residents say, has been improperly dubbed Baja King William).

Margarita Maldonado and her husband, Stuart Smoot, say they don't want a planned pedestrian bridge over the San Antonio River. They say the bridge would encourage Brackenridge High School students to skip school, cross over the bridge, and get into mischief among the dilapidated buildings of the Big Tex Grain complex. Maldonado also contends that rats could cross the bridge and enter their neighborhood, which lies south of King William. (Photo by Michael Cary)

“We already have a problem with pedestrians,” explains Guenther Street resident Margarita Maldonado, who says Brackenridge students skip classes to gather near a drainage tunnel along the riverbank. “We have issues with First Friday and the King William parade `during Fiesta`.”

Maldonado says giving high schoolers access to cross the river to nearby empty Big Tex buildings is asking for trouble. Also, she says, the bridge would entice First Friday revelers to park in her neighborhood and walk across to the Blue Star Arts Complex. “We don’t want the bridge right there,” Maldonado reiterates. “It is going to cause problems for the neighborhood.”

Ellen Garza, president of the Labores de los Misiones Neighborhood Association, echoes that sentiment. “We were not consulted, and we didn’t know about the bridge at that corner. A lot of people `in the neighborhood that’s not part of King William` are frustrated, and disappointed, with the expected influx of traffic on First Friday. King William created a monster with First Friday; we will have traffic and trash like on Alamo Street.”

Maldonado and Garza both said they want river-improvement planners to move the bridge downstream, perhaps to Roosevelt Park near the old Lone Star Brewery.

“We’re getting it dumped here, and we’re going to get stuck with this crap,” says Garza.

The Eagleland stretch of the San Antonio River Improvements Project includes a $4.5-million pedestrian bridge that is still in the design phase. When it is built, the bridge will connect the hike-and-bike trail on the west side of the river, site of the derelict and possibly vermiculite-contaminated Big Tex Grain compound `See “Nixing Big Tex,” May 12-18, 2005`, to the trail that will continue southward to Lone Star Boulevard and ultimately all the way to Mission Espada.

“We’re getting it dumped here,

and we’re going to get stuck with this crap.”

– Ellen Garza

In the Eagleland section, a hike-and-bike trail, complete with picnic areas and overlooks, will connect the trail from Guenther Street near Pioneer Flour Mill to a pocket park and plaza on Eagleland Street behind Brackenridge High School.

Maldonado and her husband, Stuart Smoot, own the house adjacent to the planned pocket park and bridge. They have no driveway on their property, so they park on Eagleland Street. With the bridge and park taking up space, they would have to negotiate with the City for street parking.

SARA engineer Jim Boenig says he and other officials met with Maldonado and Smoot, and remain concerned about accommodating their parking needs.

Plans to improve access to the San Antonio River to the north and south of downtown have been in the works for more than a decade. In 1998, a river-improvements oversight committee was appointed, and the city, county, and federal government allocated $140 million to make 13 miles of the river accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.

The Museum Reach will improve river access from Houston Street to Lexington Street, then to Hildebrand Avenue at Brackenridge Park; the four-mile stretch could feature riverfront cafés, condos, and other amenities. To the south, the Mission Reach will stretch nine miles from where the current southern edge of the River Walk ends, to the grounds of Mission San Francisco de la Espada. `See “Mission control,” March 17-23 and “No Dick’s need apply,” March 24-30, 2005.`

Maldonado says she and other residents attended River Oversight Committee meetings, but were dissatisfied with the results. “We were not getting enough information. They weasled about what type of bridge and what use. We only saw an architectural rendering of the bridge.”

Boenig says the metal-truss bridge would be 12 feet wide with bike lanes. In the center, piers will support the bridge, which will connect the east and west riverbanks.

“It’s not designed for vehicle traffic loads, it is designed for pedestrian loads,” he says.

The Eagleland construction designs are complete, says area resident Edward Day, who has served on the Oversight Committee and has participated in the planning since 1992. The plans are going to the Texas Department of Transportation for approval, and it will go out for bids in June 2006.

Day says the City discussed a need to connect the neighborhood to the Big Tex site, which could someday be rebuilt as a residential and retail community, and to provide access to Blue Star.

“The unfortunate side of this coin is the timeline,” says Day. Plans were in the making as early as 1992, and seriously considered by the committee starting in 1998, but the preliminary plans weren’t approved until 2001. “Now it’s 2005, and we’re discussing it again. I’m sorry this has gotten out of hand.”

By Michael Cary


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