(From left) City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Phil Hardberger, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Councilman John Courage (D9), Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), and City Engineer and Director Mike Frisbie participate in the groundbreaking of the Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge at Phil Hardberger Park.
(From left) City Manager Sheryl Sculley, former Mayor Phil Hardberger, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Councilman John Courage (D9), Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), and Transportation and Capital Improvements Director Mike Frisbie break ground on the Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge at Phil Hardberger Park. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

City officials and former Mayor Phil Hardberger gathered Saturday afternoon to kick off the building process on the $23 million Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge over Wurzbach Parkway that will connect the two sides of Phil Hardberger Park.

Construction will begin in November and is planned to wrap up in April 2020. When complete, the 189-foot-long and 150-foot-wide bridge will be covered with native plants and trees and feature a wheelchair-accessible trail.

The bridge is designed for use by both animals and humans, which Hardberger says makes the structure one of a kind.

“The bridge is a big deal not only psychologically, but in its physicality,” he said. “It would occupy most of a football field. … It is the only bridge like it in the United States. The size of it is grander, but also the multipurpose for the animals and people is unique.”

City Manager Sheryl Sculley mused on how long the bridge has been in the works at Saturday’s groundbreaking, saying it was one of the first projects she worked on when she came to San Antonio in 2005.

Sculley recounted visiting the current site of Hardberger Park with its namesake, arranging the land acquisition, and seeking voter approval to design the space and build the bridge.

Funding comes from a $10 million donation package that includes $4.2 million in private donations, $2.8 million from the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy, $2 million from a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grant, and $1 million from Bexar County. The Tobin Endowment’s $1.5 million gift included naming rights for the land bridge.

The remaining $13 million will come from money approved by voters in the 2017 municipal bond.

The project has garnered criticism from members of the public and elected officials who say the money could be better spent in less affluent parts of San Antonio.

At the time of the vote to approve the bridge’s construction contract, Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) voted against the measures, saying there are greater priority needs in other areas of the community. Councilman John Courage (D9), who supports the project, posited that the land bridge may be the “most controversial bond project that went out in 2017.”

On Saturday, Sculley and other City officials emphasized that the park can be used by all San Antonians, not just those in districts 8 and 9.

“It is a park for all of San Antonio,” she said. “I live downtown and I frequently come up here to the park, and I know that many residents throughout the community do that as well.”

City officials also spoke about the environmental advantages of the bridge, allowing animals to pass over a major roadway from the drier half of the area on N.W. Military Highway to the more wet region on Blanco Road. The bridge will allow animals to travel to the side of the park that holds greater access to water sources, Hardberger said.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.