Phil Hardberger Park’s Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge is approaching its final stages of construction and is expected to be completed in the fall.
The 150-foot-wide bridge will connect the east and west areas of Phil Hardberger Park, creating a safe passage for people and animals while replicating the surrounding environment. It will include a SkyWalk, or elevated walkway, that extends to the treetops and a trail designed to accommodate people with disabilities, including those using wheelchairs, that connects to trails on both sides of the bridge.
Construction work on the bridge support structure and bridge deck is the current focus for contractor SpawGlass, said Paul Berry, chief communications officer for the City of San Antonio’s Public Works Department. After that, construction crews will need to finish building the skywalk and install artistic elements and landscaping, he said.
The City doesn’t have a firm completion date but estimated the project will be finished this fall.
The land bridge was conceived as a way to give wildlife as well as humans a way to traverse from one section of the park to the other. The project’s artistic elements, in the form of wildlife blinds, add a public art element to the natural surroundings.
Park visitors can catch a glimpse of the bridge’s progress while on the trails of Phil Hardberger Park East and West. The bridge deck can be spotted from the Savanna trail at PHP West, with landscaping of the walkway and bridge site appearing to be the only things left to complete. Drivers also can see the finalization of bridge support as they cruise under it on Wurzbach Parkway. Once the bridge is complete, visitors are expected to feel as if they are walking over a natural hill.
“People are very much anticipating the opening of Hardberger Park Land Bridge,” said Debbie Racca-Sittre, director of the City of San Antonio Department of Arts and Culture. “And I hope that it will be as exciting for those who are art lovers, as [well as] wildlife lovers.”
The department selected artists Cade Bradshaw and Ashley Mireles to create wildlife viewing blinds for each side of the bridge. The blinds will act as camouflage for visitors to view wildlife without distracting or frightening the animals. The artists’ designs represent the nature of the park in their artwork, but in different ways.
Bradshaw’s design highlights the topography and animals of the park. Beginning with a map that shows elevation changes across the park’s landscape, Bradshaw drew out the forms to fit around the skin of the steel blind, then created the animal shapes of a bobcat, armadillo, owl, green anole lizard, and other species.
“I was really interested in the topography of the land bridge, and how it’s almost as if earth is being stretched across the bridge from each side,” Bradshaw said.
Mireles’ design will reflect the park’s regional and native plant life and will include images of the Texas mountain laurel and prickly pear cactus. The blinds will have interpretive signs that allow park visitors to read about the artwork and how it draws from the surrounding ecosystem.
While the wildlife viewing blinds are being fabricated for installation, a preview of the artists’ work can be seen at the River Walk Public Art Garden. The garden, across from the Henry B. González Convention Center on East Market Street near South Alamo Street, gives visitors an opportunity to learn about public art installations across the city. Bradshaw’s and Mireles’ “Green Spaces at Market Square,” atop a stone wall overlooking the River Walk at the garden, employs artistic cutouts similar to the public artwork at the land bridge.
Bradshaw and Mireles are looking forward to the structure being completed and having their artwork available for park visitors to enjoy.
“My fear is that in some cases, anywhere, public artwork might take a long time,” Mireles said. “Sometimes there are some quick projects, and this one we’ve been working on for just a little bit over a year. And now we’re in the fabrication portion of it, and soon to be installation. So we’re being more eager to see it finished.”
The City of San Antonio’s Public Works Department is working toward having the land bridge completed in the fall, depending on weather conditions and other circumstances, Berry said.
Periodic closures of Wurzbach Parkway began in April with the installation of the bridge’s support beams. Partial closures of the roadway are expected to continue until October, according to the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy website.
The $23 million project was approved by City Council in September 2018, with construction beginning the following November. Funding for the project includes public and private money, with $13 million being used from the 2017 municipal bond, and the other $10 million raised by the Hardberger Park Conservancy through private donations and grants.