November 15, 2023 559 PM
MARFA — Presidio County was recently awarded $1.3 million in grant funds from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for the construction of a new pedestrian bridge that will connect east to central Marfa.
The 12-foot-wide, two-way bridge will be located on the north side of the existing Oak Street, or FM 1112, motor bridge and will offer a safe passage for walkers and bikers traveling to and from the east side of town. Sidewalk additions and improvements from Avenue B to the Marfa Public Library are also included in the project.
The current motor bridge, which is located outside of city limits, is owned and maintained by TxDOT, as is the land where the new ADA-accessible pedestrian bridge will be built. County Commissioner David Beebe, who prepared the proposal for the “transportation alternatives” grant and is acting as the project manager, said construction will not begin for a year or more and is not likely to disrupt traffic.
The entire cost of the project is $1.6 million, meaning an additional $300,000 in funds will need to be secured by the county. The grant is reimbursable, meaning that the county will first have to spend money before being paid back by TxDOT, but the project will be done in phases, lessening the financial burden, said Beebe.
Beebe said while costly, the project has the opportunity to create long-term, positive impacts for a traditionally underserved side of town, better connecting the east side inhabitants to the public library, post office, pharmacy, two parks and more.
“That’s the kind of investment that you should spend money on,” said Beebe. “This could really rejuvenate the entire FM 1112 area close to town. It could make Sal Si Puedes an area that’s more family friendly, safer for everybody, less cut off from the activities of town.”
As it stands, pedestrians have no choice but to cross via the two-lane motor bridge — which is narrow with no shoulders and sees cars traveling 50 miles per hour — or down through Alamito Creek.
Robert Halpern, who helped facilitate the initiative through his role as workforce and economic development specialist at the Rio Grande Council of Governments, said the unincorporated community has long deserved a better connection to town.
“I see people walking, and they shouldn’t have to walk in the creek or share that two-lane bridge with cattle trucks,” said Halpern. “We’ll have a pedestrian bicycle bridge adjacent to the vehicle bridge in a couple of years. I think that’s great.”
Halpern, who lives in Sal Si Puedes, attributed the $1.3 million funding windfall to Beebe’s hard work as well as Sal Si Puedes residents’ grassroots efforts to show support for the project by writing letters and attending meetings with TxDOT representatives.
Carla De Hoyos, a Sal Si Puedes resident who owns and operates a bar, Vaquero Vibes, with her husband in the area, said the new pedestrian bridge will be a positive addition for both locals and tourists.
“When the warmer days are around we’d love to see more people walking on our side of town versus central,” said De Hoyos.
She said the bridge was sorely-needed from a safety perspective, and she hoped more people in the neighborhood would use it to walk and stay healthy.
De Hoyos will be experiencing construction firsthand given her home’s proximity to the Oak Street bridge, but said she believes the additional pedestrian walkway will elevate the look of the existing bridge. The project is anticipated to take around three years to complete once construction begins in late 2024 or early 2025, said Beebe.
Beebe said the east side connectivity project will also benefit the growing Antelope Hills area. Part of his fundraising strategy will include seeking out private donations from established and forthcoming businesses in the area like Max Hetzler Gallery and El Cosmico.
Contributions from individual donors are also a possibility, said Beebe, who is working on creating a new county policy that would allow donors to give towards specific government projects versus the county’s general fund.
“If somebody writes a $5,000 check, that’s $5,000 I don’t need to pry out of the county general fund that doesn’t have $5,000,” said Beebe.
Beebe also plans to seek help from the City of Marfa, he said, if not in the form of cash, through donations of barricades and dirt work. The Friends of the Marfa Public Library have backed the project in addition to the Rio Grande Council of Governments.
The bridge itself represents the largest cost of the project, but curbing, handicap ramps, excavation, signage and more all roll into the final, all-inclusive cost, said Beebe. Due to the presence of Alamito Creek, environmental studies will also be required to ensure the bridge’s longevity.
“All this stuff is really expensive,” said Beebe. “When you look at the $1.6 million, that is everything included, inflation, overruns, engineering, environmental study, dirt work, berms, removal, disposal, everything.”
Despite the county’s current financial difficulties, which Beebe is well aware of, strategic investments in the county and its people needed to continue, he argued.
“While we still have the ability to do great projects like this I’m hoping that these things can help propel us towards a better economy, a better economic outlook for the area by investing in some of our areas that have traditionally seen less investment, less infrastructure,” said Beebe.
While the connectivity project is currently isolated to the specific stretch of Oak Street, Beebe said the creation of a formal bike plan down the road — that could act as an extension to the forthcoming HWY 67 bike lane from Alpine to Marfa — could mean more grant funds and more accessible walking and biking paths.