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Barton Springs Road Bridge: Section 106 Review Needed

Preservation Austin on April 7, 2014 sent the below letter in response to the City of Austin's Public Works Department's solicitation of bids for work to replace the  Barton Springs Road Bridge over Barton Creek, which is a contributing structure to the Zilker Park National Register Historic District.

Dear Mr. Lazarus:

It has come to the attention of Preservation Austin (formerly the Heritage Society of Austin) that the City has issued a RFQ to select a consultant for the design of the Barton Springs Road Bridge over Barton Creek.  As one of the oldest bridges in the city, constructed in the mid-1920s, it is of particular concern to us.  We recognize the need for additional passage over the creek for bicycle and pedestrian traffic; however, Preservation Austin believes there are a number of alternatives to demolition of the historic bridge. One successful example of a similar case is the Pfluger pedestrian bridge, constructed to preserve the historic Lamar Bridge.  That concept could be repeated here and would be economical as well as attractive to walkers and bikers.

Upon review of the Scope of Services, we wish to bring important relevant points to your attention.

• The RFQ states that the Barton Springs Road Bridge is not "historically registered"; however, please note that the bridge is listed as a primary contributing structure within the Zilker Park National Register Historic District (NRHD) and it is likely individually eligible for designation on the National Register of Historic Places.

• The City Code Section 25-11-213 covering review of all permits in NRHDs, and those affecting properties over 50 years old, requires that these permits be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) and the Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) prior to a permit being issued. Given the bridge's prominence within the Zilker Park NRHD we suggest your staff contact Steve Sadowsky at the City's HPO to consult with him early in the design process.

• The RFQ states that permitting from the Army Corps of Engineers is required. By Federal law, any undertaking by a Federal agency (including permitting) requires compliance with Sec. 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). This will require that consultation be initiated with the Texas Historical Commission (THC) acting as the State Historic Preservation Office. You can contact the THC for more information on the Sec. 106 process at www.thc.state.tx.us/project-review/national-historic-preservation-act/section-106-review-process, or by calling Elizabeth Brummett, 512.463.6167.

• Any alterations to the Barton Springs Road Bridge should include considerations of the impact to the character of the creek, the park and Barton Springs, and to the iconic New Deal-era constructed entrance pillars to Zilker Park, which are also important contributing structures to the Zilker Park NRHD and are therefore subject to review by the HPO and HLC.

We hope that the City will give serious consideration to the historical and engineering significance of the Barton Springs Road Bridge and will explore other alternatives prior to making a decision to demolish. Please feel free to contact Preservation Austin with any questions you have regarding the processes described above.

Sincerely,

Tom Stacy
President