Work will begin in November on a land bridge connecting the divided Phil Hardberger Park after City Council approved a funding package and construction contract.

At their Thursday meeting, council members approved three measures related to the $23 million concrete bridge to be built over Wurzbach Parkway, which cuts through the 330-acre park.

The 189-foot-long, 150-foot-wide concrete span will be topped with native plants, trees, and an wheelchair-accessible trail that will let people and animals move safely between the two sides of the park.

“People will recognize this,” City Transportation and Capital Improvements Director Mike Frisbie said before the vote. “It’s iconic and unique.”

Frisbie also said the bridge will include underside lighting and a cistern that can catch rainwater for use in irrigating the landscape.

The project’s budget and its location on San Antonio’s relatively more affluent Northside have drawn criticism from some on council and members of the public, who point to other neighborhoods that historically suffered from a lack of public investment.

“It’s going to look great … but at the end of the day, we have other priority needs in our community,” said Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), who voted against the measures.

All other councilmembers voted yes except for Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), who abstained, and Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), who was absent.

The Council also approved a donation agreement with the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy, led by former Mayor Phil Hardberger.

The donation package adds up to $10 million – $4,205,000 in private donations, $2,795,000 from the conservancy, $2 million from a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grant, and $1 million from Bexar County.

The remaining $13 million for the bridge was approved by voters as part of the $850 million 2017 bond. Approximately $5.5 million comes from the streets portion of bond revenues and $7.5 million from the parks share.

“Perhaps this was the most controversial bond project that went out in 2017,” said Councilman John Courage (D9). “While some of us may have not been personally supportive of the project – I was – our job now is to make sure the project is built on time, within budget.”

Brockhouse noted that voters could only give an up-or-down vote on more than 170 bond projects and could not have rejected the land bridge without rejecting the rest.
“They were considered worthy as a grouping, not as individual projects,” he said.

The Council also gave its approval to a $18,265,000 contract with SpawGlass Civil Construction to build the land bridge. Another $182,325 from the City’s tree canopy fund will pay the planting of more trees than is required by City ordinance, Parks and Recreation Director Xavier Urrutia said.

Frisbie said that the remaining roughly $5 million of the total $23 million budget is for design, engineering, inspection, and testing of materials.

Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) acknowledged the land bridge’s cost but said its benefits as a San Antonio landmark and destination park will be immeasurable.

“What I can’t quantify is the value this is going to have for several generations,” Saldana said. “In 2020, there’s going to be a lot of community members who are happy that this is in their city.”

Hardberger, who served as mayor from 2005 to 2009, spoke after the vote about San Antonio’s lack of park space compared to other major cities and the uneven distribution of the city’s parks.

He described how parks often come to be in San Antonio: When a landowner plans to sell a large piece of relatively untouched property for development, the City and conservation-minded groups often scramble to purchase and preserve the land as open space.

“You do have to start somewhere,” Hardberger said. “Somewhere in this case occasioned itself when a big piece of land that had a lot of uncut trees on it came on the market.”

Purchase of the land was itself part of the City’s 2007 voter-approved bond package. Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the land bridge was part of the park’s original concept being discussed a decade ago.

City officials will hold a groundbreaking ceremony open to the public on Oct. 6, with construction set to begin in November. The land bridge should be finished by April 2020.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.