Bridge to Nowhere

Barton Skyway can be a bit of mystery to Austin drivers. The road, which has its own exit off MoPac Expressway, also runs east to its intersection with South Lamar. Surely, the MoPac end must connect with the Lamar end somewhere, right? Actually, both sides end at the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Why? The answer lies in the story of the Barton Skyway Bridge, and a time in Austin when common citizens battled valiantly against the forces they thought were changing the city too quickly during a time of tremendous growth.

Text courtesy Blairfield Realty

Austin American-Statesman, August 31, 1978.

In 1978 citizens from the Barton Hills neighborhood testified at the Austin City Council, demanding that plans for the bridge over Barton Creek be halted.

Austin American-Statesman, May 21, 1978.

As outlined in the city’s 1969 Expressway and Major Arterial Plan, the bridge would have crossed Barton Creek and connected the two sides of Barton Skyway. This would have created another east-west traffic artery across South Austin that, pending the completion of additional projects, would eventually have continued to South Congress. By the mid-’70s, AISD was planning for the bridge construction by re-zoning schools, including the decision to send Barton Hills Elementary students to O. Henry Middle School and Austin High School. But at the same time, as city entities were preparing to build the bridge, the Barton Hills neighborhood had become more and more established, and its residents became some of the most outspoken and organized opponents of the project.

Text courtesy Blairfield Realty

Betty Brown from the Zilker Park Posse at Barton Springs with other concerned citizens, June 20,1979.

The controversy arose amidst a wider struggle in the city over development of the Barton Creek Watershed. On one side were developers eager to satisfy the demands of homebuyers in a booming market. On the other was a growing number of environmental activists out to protect the watershed and manage the region’s growth. These people founded such entities as the Save Barton Creek Association (a non-profit, informational organization that’s still active today), and the political action committee known as the Zilker Park Posse.

Austin American-Statesman, June 18, 2012.

The resulting pushback against the bridge construction was based on neighborhood concerns about the quality of life and safety of its residents, as well as wider concerns about the long-term degradation of Barton Creek and potentially Barton Springs Pool. In August 1978, the city council took up a resolution to allocate money to fund an engineering study that would be the first step in the building project. Not surprisingly, Barton Hills residents spoke out in force. Eventually, the study wasn’t commissioned, and the bridge project faded away. All in all, that’s worth a few confused Austin drivers.

Text courtesy Blairfield Realty

Supporting Documents