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Austin’s historic Montopolis bridge closing to become a hike and bike trail

Austin's historic Montopolis bridge will be closed off to traffic before it is preserved as a hike and bike trail.

AUSTIN — If the historic Montopolis bridge has been part of your daily commute, now is the time to start looking for an alterative route.

Beginning Monday morning, the bridge will be permanently shut off to vehicular traffic as crews with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority press forward with the second half of the 183 South Project in which the 80-year-old steel truss bridge will be rehabilitated and preserved as a hike and bike trail that will link up with other local trails and parks.

"We recognize the importance of the historic nature of this structure and thought that if we could use it for the community and connect up two trail heads into two different bike and ped facilities, and that this was a great opportunity to do that," explained Justin Word, director of engineering for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. "We're going to rehab this structure and put it into use for pedestrians."

The mobility authority has been working on the project for two years and expects to be completely finished with it in 2020, when the bridge will be open to just cyclists and pedestrians as the new hike and bike trail. Over the course of the next two years, Word explained there will be times when pedestrians and cyclists will be able to use the bridge, but there will also be times when it needs to be completely shut off for safety.

"There will be mixed times, there will be times for safety that we'll have to shut it down, but we're going to try and limit those times and make it available," Word said. "We're working without developer partners to make this as available as possible."

According to the Mobility Authority, vehicular traffic coming from Cesar Chavez Street will now be shifted onto a new bridge and can access U.S. 183 southbound above the Colorado River. Drivers will no longer be able to access westbound Montopolis Drive directly from the Montopolis steel truss bridge. Local traffic will detour via U.S. 183 southbound to the Vargas Road and Montopolis Drive detour to access Montopolis Drive.

The history of the Montopolis Bridge

The Montopolis bridge was constructed in 1938 by Vincennes Steel Corporation after floods in June of 1935 washed the original structure out. At one point in time, it served as one of the only links between the heart of downtown Austin and the city's east side.

In 1996, the Montopolis steel truss bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Word explained that despite its age, the bridge is structurally sound and safe, but was just not as wide as it should be for drivers, which is why continuing to preserve it was made a priority.

"It's a very safe structure right now, it's just not wide enough, so we're going to put everybody on the new structure and keep it for its historic context," said Word. "I think overall the community is very excited about it."

As part of a ceremonial decommissioning, the last motorized vehicle crossed the bridge Monday at 10:30 a.m.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), CTRMA Chairman Ray Wilkerson and executive director Mike Heiligenstein were the last ones to drive across the bridge.

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