Rendering of Hardberger Park land bridge.
Rendering of Hardberger Park land bridge. Credit: Courtesy / Stephen Stimson Associates

The Streets, Bridges, and Sidewalks Bond Committee on Tuesday considered whether to shave $3.75 million from the proposed Hardberger Park land bridge to fund one or more smaller projects planned in the City’s 2017 bond.

After much discussion, the committee voted overwhelmingly to proceed with a bus tour of select projects, including Hardberger Park.

The committee then will have its final meeting, Dec. 13, to see whether to modify funding for the land bridge or other projects. Committees will submit their recommendations to City Council, which will decide on projects and funding levels that will be presented to voters on the May 2017 ballot.

In a meeting that sometimes mirrored the Nov. 15 Parks and Recreation Bond Committee session, some members saw the land bridge as something that goes against the “back to basics” approach they believe the $850 million total bond should address.

The Parks Committee voted on Nov. 15 to reallocate $2 million from the land bridge to McAllister Park.

City staff had recommended $7.5 million each from the parks and streets bond for the land bridge. Community supporters of Hardberger Park have pledged to raise an additional $10 million for the project.

The Parks Committee will meet Dec. 5 to consider more proposals, including those that could further de-fund Hardberger Park and a few other larger projects for redistribution among smaller inner-city projects.

Based on recent input from residents and committee members, city staff added six more projects for streets bond consideration. Oscar Rosalez, the lone attending Council District 6 representative, was one of a few committee members to propose funding modifications.

Rosalez recommended reconfiguring a staff-recommended District 6 project involving connectors between Ingram and Portranco roads, and Military Drive. This is currently a $10 million project.

He felt Ingram, which would dead-end at an extended Military, should continue past that street and connect with Potranco.

Mike Frisbie, the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department director, said it would take at least another $5 million to extend Ingram past Military.

Rosalez then proposed taking $3.75 million from the Hardberger Park land bridge.

The land bridge, as described in the bond, “is not for residents,” Rosalez said, and is not a bridge in the traditional sense of the term – for vehicular use. He also felt the money could support more essential infrastructural needs, especially in older, inner-city neighborhoods.

Given what is already taking place with the parks committee, Frisbie noted further de-funding could adversely affect the land bridge proposal.

“It’s buildable, but it would be at a bare minimum,” he added.

Some residents show support for major downtown-area street projects at the Streets Bond Committee meeting at the Central Public Library on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Photo by Edmond Ortiz
Some residents show support for major downtown-area street projects at the Streets Bond Committee meeting at the Central Public Library. Credit: Edmond Ortiz for the San Antonio Report

Council District 8 Committee member Mike Garza said a land bridge would benefit all San Antonians, not just park visitors from Council Districts 8 and 9, which share park acreage. Garza also noted the land bridge is part of the Hardberger Park master plan, which the Council adopted in 2008.

“It’s always been intended to connect both sides of the park. There is a connectivity and accessibility issue,” he added.

Considering the the parks committee’s actions, Garza urged the streets committee to “stand firm,” especially with the private sector promising to leverage the project with $10 million.

“We’ve already taken a $2 million hit,” he added.

Council District 9 member Patty Gibbons moved to amend Rosalez’s proposal, suggesting the $3.75 million be divided among all 10 Council districts. She agreed that the land bridge is less of a necessity than most bond projects.

“The land bridge in a fiscally responsible time, I can’t see how we can do it when there are needs in District 6,” Gibbons said. From what she has seen in meetings with other bond committees, residents want to focus on the basics, she added.

“There seems to be a need for people to feel safe on their streets,” Gibbons added.

District 1 member Sonny Collins supported keeping the land bridge funding, and that the City “can’t just walk away” from the private sector pledging to match public money.

“We should go through with it and fully support the $7 million,” he added.

District 4 member Gilbert Morales said the $3.75 million could go a long way toward funding even smaller projects, such as sidewalk fixes. He also suggested that many inner-city residents are more worried about their infrastructure than about a park’s land bridge on the Northside.

“It’s a great opportunity (land bridge), but when you talk of it being a citywide project, it’s a little disingenuous,” Morales said. “People from the West or Southsides, they don’t go to this park. You’ll see them more at Hemisfair.”

District 1 representative Michelle Casillas said $3.75 million, divided among 10 districts, would not have much of an impact on any project.

District 7 member Bianca Maldonado said smaller projects that address basic infrastructure needs deserve all the financial help they can get through the bonding process.

“It’s a great thing they’ll get leverage and funding,” she said about projects such as Hardberger Park. “But we won’t get that leverage and funding. At the end of the day, people will wonder why we’re supporting a land bridge over streets and sidewalks.”

Mike Garza urged his fellow members to keep in mind how, outside of a bond, the City addresses small-scale improvements yearly through its Infrastructure Maintenance Program.

After some members expressed a desire to wait until a bus tour of Hardberger and a few other select project sites, Gibbons withdrew her proposal.

The committee voted 22-5 to wait until after the tour to reconsider partial defunding of Hardberger Park’s land bridge. Three other representatives were absent from the 30-member committee Tuesday.

The tour is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 3, and includes Broadway, the Five Points neighborhood, the Zarzamora Street overpass at Frio Street, the Alamo area, and internal roads at Hemisfair.

District 9 member Marilyn Jowdy then motioned to take $205 million total from street projects considered as having citywide impact, including those affecting the downtown area. She suggested City staff evaluate how the $205 million could be divided among the 10 districts.

District 9 representative Art Downey disagreed with Jowdy’s premise. He felt the bonding process is a way the City can fund significant projects that cannot be adequately supported by annual scheduled maintenance.

District 10 member Clayton Perry appreciated Jowdy’s concept, and suggested that redistributing $205 million from citywide projects would not necessarily be detrimental to major urban core proposals, such as Hemisfair or Broadway.

Jowdy’s motion failed, 21-6. When it meets for a final time, the streets committee will consider other proposed funding modifications.

One proposal would reallocate $2 million from $9 million in improvements along New Braunfels Avenue in District 2 to an originally unfunded project meant to provide more road access from schools at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

New Braunfels Avenue residents have begun a petition drive to keep the project funding level at $9 million, saying the money could improve neighborhood infrastructure, address public safety worries, and make the area more viable for economic redevelopment.

The streets committee has ended its “citizens to be heard” portions at meeting. But more than 20 attendees at Tuesday’s meeting wore shirts in solidarity to support funding Broadway, Hemisfair and Zona Cultural projects in the bond.

One of those attendees, Thomas Marks, said Downey correctly described the bond as capable of supporting these and other “transformative” downtown-area projects, which have potential to benefit the entire city.

Marks added the committee’s lengthy discussion about funding and priorities demonstrate how much residents care about San Antonio.

“We’re hearing that Council members are calling their committee members, saying, hey, we need to prioritize these items,” Marks said. “It means we have an active Council and an engaged community.”

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.