The 3rd Street Trestle is a conventional timber railroad design type, historically named as the International & Great Northern Railroad Trestle at Shoal Creek. The structure, as it stands today, was constructed in 1925 as a replacement to an earlier 1876 bridge and part of a historic connector line through Austin. Extensive repairs were made in the 1990’s, when the Hill Country Flyer last used the trestle. The rail line is now out-of-service and the trestle structure is abandoned. Today, it finds itself at the center of a vibrant and rapidly growing area of downtown Austin, and adjacent to new residences, businesses, and an active pedestrian and bicycle bridge over Shoal Creek.
Over the last twenty years, there has been a groundswell of support to restore and honor the trestle as a significant artifact of Austin’s history, and repurpose it for public use. At the same time, some have questioned the structural integrity, and cost of reuse, harboring concerns about liability and obstruction of creek flows, and ultimately want to demolish the structure. Another group of Austinites would prefer to see a new, vehicular bridge at the location that could serve the new area of downtown to the west.
In 2018, Shoal Creek Conservancy—in partnership with the Austin Parks Foundation—commissioned a structural and historical resources evaluation of the trestle, recognizing the critical importance of this site along the Shoal Creek Trail and its potential transformation into a vibrant public destination. The goal of this study was to answer the long-standing questions about the structural integrity and cost of reuse. The study concluded that the bridge could be successfully rehabilitated and could serve a public gathering space, as many had envisioned. It also provided an initial design and cost estimate to inform the public conversation going forward.
One of the priority projects in the 'Shoal Creek Trail: Vision to Action Plan' draft is the restoration and reuse of the trestle as a sort of “mini-High Line”—a causal community space for relaxation, gathering, public art and performances. This community-developed plan proposes improving, connecting, and extending the Shoal Creek Trail to build on its natural and historic character and create a place for education, recreation and transportation.
Once complete, the Shoal Creek Trail will tie into a 30-mile trail loop around the city that will connect east, west, north and central Austin. This trail will serve as a key component in the larger plan to create a series of connected public plazas in the area, extending from Walter Seaholm Drive to Nueces Street, as well as to improve pedestrian and bicycle connectivity in the area.
Cover photo by Ted Lee Eubanks
The Downtown Austin Alliance is a partnership of downtown property owners, individuals, and businesses devoted to preserving and enhancing the value and vitality of downtown Austin.