Austin Avenue Bridges Project Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Updated Oct. 4, 2016
Are the bridges safe right now?
Answer: Yes. According to TxDOT, which is responsible for inspecting the bridges every two years, the bridges are totally safe for traffic.
What are the options being discussed for the bridges?
Answer: The standard framework given to the engineers hired by the city has been 4 options:
Option 1: Do nothing
Option 2: Repair for the short term
Option 3: Repair for the long term and
Option 4: Replace the bridges entirely.
I’ve heard that the bridges are structurally deficient. Is this true?
Answer: Not true. The term “Structurally Deficient” is a definition established by the technical standards of the National Bridge Inspection Standards, which is administered locally by TxDOT. To be structurally deficient, a bridge must receive an inspection score of 4 or less. The Austin Avenue bridges received a score of 5. Therefore, according to TxDOT, the bridges are NOT structurally deficient. It now appears that City’s engineering consultant presented information to the public on this matter was incorrect – we expect this to be changed by the city moving forward.
Is it true that TxDOT recently reduced the load rating on the bridges?
Answer: The load rating was initially reduced by TxDOT to 48,000 pounds following their inspection in 2013. However, on May 2, 2016, TXDOT informed city officials and their engineering consultants that the load rating for the bridges has been restored to 68,000 pounds. The City recently decided to keep the bridges’ load ratings posted at 48,000 pounds, instead of the TxDOT recommended load limit of 68,000 pounds.
The City has stated that the bridges have reached the end of their design life. Is this true?
Answer: Not exactly. The bridges are 76 years old. They are at the end of their original design life of 70-75 years. However, according to engineers hired by the City, the useful life of the bridges can be safely extended by several decades if properly repaired and maintained.
Can the bridges be safely repaired?
Answer: Yes. Three independent engineering reports commissioned by the city have all agreed that repair is very feasible.
Would Downtown be impacted if the bridges were to be completely replaced?
Answer: It is highly likely that Downtown would be significantly impacted, if the bridges were to replaced. The City has stated that replacement would force the complete closure of Austin Avenue for a period of time (we believe anywhere from 18 to 36 months). Detours for this length of time would have serious negative impacts on Downtown businesses. Detours would also dramatically increase traffic through San Gabriel Park and Old Town neighborhoods. Salado, our neighbor to the North, has suffered crippling business closures (82 out of 127 businesses according to Texas Monthly magazine) during the I-35 construction project. Downtown Georgetown could face similar impacts with the long-term closure of Austin Avenue that would accompany replacement of the bridges.
What are our best options for the bridges?
Answer: Based on our analysis of the available information and potential risks associated with the four options, the Alliance recommends that the City eliminate Options 1 and 4 from further consideration. Option 1, which calls for doing nothing, ignores the need to perform regular repairs and maintenance on the bridges. Option 4, which calls for the complete replacement of the current bridges, carries high risk of negative economic impact to Downtown due to an extended closure of Austin Avenue during construction. The Alliance considers both 1 and 4 to be unacceptable options.
Are the bridges historic?
Answer: Yes. They are eligible for listing on the National Registry of Historic Places. The bridges feature several elements of historic significance. The signature feature is the suspended span held between cantilevered arms – few bridges of this style exist in Texas today. Rivets were used at a time when welding techniques were inadequate, and Art Deco styling is reflected in the overall design.
Are the bridges protected because they are historic?
Answer: The Austin Avenue bridges fall under the guidelines of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966. The NHPA sets strict guidelines that municipalities must follow when considering repair, renovation or replacement of historic structures. The Texas Historical Society acts as the local agent of the NHPA in Texas. The City is currently working under the NHPA guidelines in their analysis of options for the bridges.
What is a Consulting Party?
Answer: Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) requires Federal agencies and state counterparts to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties, and afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation a reasonable opportunity to comment. Consulting parties are a component of this commenting process. Consulting Parties are stakeholders who have a vested in the actions affecting historic properties. This could be a local heritage society or neighborhood group. Being named as a Consulting Party gives the stakeholder official status as a project participant. Furthermore, it guarantees the stakeholder access to project information and permits them to participate in the commenting process. The Alliance has been granted Consulting Party status for the Austin Avenue Bridges Project. To learn how to obtain Consulting Party status for your group or organization, contact the Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who decides about the bridges?
Answer: Due to the expected use of federal funds, key decision makers regarding the outcome of the Austin Avenue bridges will ultimately be the City of Georgetown, the Texas Historical Commission, and TxDOT, all working under the guidelines of the National Historic Preservation Act – Section 106.
Why do we want to preserve the bridges?
Answer: The bridges are a historic and cultural asset of the community of Georgetown. They possess engineering and construction features not widely found today. They are an integral part of historic Downtown Georgetown, “The Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas,” one of Central Texas’ most popular historic and shopping destinations.