Beginning next Wednesday, the intersection of East Commerce and East Houston streets will be closed for at least nine months during the construction of a new East Commerce Street bridge over Salado Creek.
City officials and community leaders acknowledged the detour will inconvenience residents and merchants who regularly use the Eastside bridge, but added the results will be worth the trouble.
The project, funded with more than $11 million from the voter-approved 2012 bond issue, will yield improvements for motorists and pedestrians between Houston and Rio Grande streets.
Upgrades include rebuilding the bridge, a 10-foot sidewalk on the road’s southern edge, a 6-foot sidewalk on the northern edge, and a link to the hike-and-bike trail leading to the creek greenway.
“The sidewalks will really help out because many pedestrians use this road,” said Melissa Sparks, public relations manager for the City’s Department of Transportation and Capital Improvements.
Detoured traffic will use Houston Street and Coca Cola Place. City officials have said all businesses and organizations on this part of East Commerce will remain accessible during the road closure.
Residents and businesses have been informed about what lies ahead, and electronic message boards are in place to alert motorists about the upcoming closure.
The city expects the project to last one year. Capital Excavation will carry out the construction work. Bain Medina Bain designed the street improvements while Structural Engineering Associates designed the bridge reconstruction.
The City ended work on the 2007 bond-funded East Houston Street and bridge project a few weeks ago, a short distance from the Commerce Street project site and yards away from AT&T Center Parkway. Houston Street improvements included widening traffic lanes and installing new traffic signals and sidewalks. The bridge was replaced and raised to withstand a 100-year flood event, and included a public art component and a connection to the creek’s hike-and-bike trail.
During the East Commerce Street groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday at Carver Library, Councilmember Alan Warrick II (D2) encouraged area residents and merchants who endured Houston Street project detours to be patient with this undertaking on Commerce Street.
Warrick said the added safety features such as sidewalks could help neighborhood residents to feel more comfortable when walking to and from work, Spurs games at the AT&T Center, businesses, and recreational resources.
He said the upcoming improvements will raise an added public awareness about the greenway.
“In the end, things are going to be a lot better for the community. We’ll have more access points to the Salado Creek greenway. People are going to actually know it’s down there,” Warrick said. “Right now, very few people in this community use that greenway. It’ll be a great opportunity to improve your health and connectivity.”
Warrick said opening up this portion of the Salado Creek greenway is just one part of the wider effort to link all of the city’s public greenways and trails, and expose more Eastside residents to their closest public recreational amenities.
“We have an opportunity here to have the city connected by greenways, not just freeways,” he said.
To the perceived lack of progress in infrastructure improvements or development opportunities on the Eastside, Warrick assured the crowd that the public and private sector strive to continue with various investments.
“We are fighting for change, development and growth on the Eastside. We have a lot of things happening: the Red Berry Mansion project, the Crockett Street Urban Lofts, and the Merchandise Ice House (apartments) as well,” he said.
He added these redevelopment projects tie in with street and greenspace improvements to enhance various Eastside neighborhoods.
“We need to bring commerce back to Commerce Street, and this is one of the things that’ll do that,” he said. “We’re looking at a lot of these vacant buildings and warehouses. We have mixed-use opportunities, and opportunities for partnerships with Bexar County.”
Charles English, founder and president of the Jefferson Heights Neighborhood Association, is a longtime community activist and advocate for his Eastside neighborhood. Even in the aftermath of incidents such as his brother’s death in a shooting in late 2011, English said projects such as these help reach a larger goal of improving the community.
English said he hopes more funds are found to bring added lighting to this stretch of East Commerce – and perhaps even a public art element like the East Houston Street project.
As for residents and merchants inconvenienced by the road work, English said community members know all too well it’s a struggle to obtain a positive outcome.
“I honestly think it may take longer than a year, but we’re prepared,” he said. “If we as a community want to see it develop in the way we want it to be sustainable, we have to go through this process.”
According to English, after fielding residents’ concerns over the years, the city’s realization of the East Commerce project is something long overdue.
“We’ve gone through so many council members and fought so many naysayers. I’m happy. There is a God,” he said.
*Work crews prep part of East Commerce Street near East Houston Street for a one-year project that will necessitate the nine-month closure of that part of the road. Bridge reconstruction and sidewalks are in the works. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.