San Antonio: Critique of Hardberger Park’s Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge

Summary

Among the ten largest cities in the U.S., San Antonio’s parks performance is below average. It is deeply inferior to some.

To improve the quality and availability of parkland for all residents, San Antonio should make the most of its opportunities. It should choose its projects carefully and spend its funds wisely. With good leadership, those projects can become sources of local pride and objects of tourist appeal.

The recent completion of the land bridge in Hardberger Park was a glaring failure on all counts.

Relying on readily available information, this post suggests that that failure resulted from indifference, incompetence, and deception, not only by the project’s advocates, but also on the part of the press, the experts, city government, and others who knew or should have known that the land bridge concept would burden the public and its parks, for many years to come, with an enormously expensive and grossly destructive “solution” to problems that did not exist or, at best, were profoundly misrepresented.

It is not clear what difference, if any, this post may make to San Antonio’s parks. But it does seem that the responsible thing to do is to provide some notice to people in other cities that may be considering similar projects.

Contents

Quality of San Antonio’s Parks
The Land Bridge Decision
For the Animals
A Tourist Attraction
The Industrial Bridge
Protecting Wildlife
Marveling at the Trees
Synthetic Polymers
Skywalk
Funding
Feedback
Regarding Bulldozers

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Quality of San Antonio’s Parks

With 1.6 million people, San Antonio, Texas is the seventh largest city in the United States. How does it compare on parks? WalletHub (McCann, 2019) gave San Antonio a mediocre rank of 47th, among the 100 largest cities in the U.S. And here are the 2021 ParkScore rankings from the Trust for Public Land (TPL), comparing park systems for the ten largest cities in the U.S.:

  1. New York City: 11th out of the 100 largest cities
  2. Los Angeles: 71st
  3. Chicago: 5th
  4. Houston: 77th
  5. Phoenix: 82nd
  6. Philadelphia: 19th
  7. San Antonio: 60th
  8. San Diego: 27th
  9. Dallas: 50th
  10. San Jose: 36th

TPL scored cities on such factors as access (i.e., walking distance to the nearest park), investment, amenities, acreage, and equity. The scores suggest that big cities (e.g., New York, Chicago) can get it right. They can do reasonably well even if they are in the land of the automobile (e.g., San Diego, San Jose).

Or else they can be from Texas. A person might wonder, do big cities in Texas (with a hat tip to Phoenix) do poorly, in the parks & recreation department, just because that state is mostly a barren scrubland devoid of life? The answer to that is no, the parks in a place like San Antonio actually have trees, places to play, and respectable numbers of visitors.

So then why such a poor score for San Antonio? TPL indicates that San Antonio did worst in the area of access. There just hasn’t been enough of an effort to keep up with the city’s sprawl. They lay down the new streets and build the new houses, and somehow nobody remembers to set anything aside for parkland.

Money is undeniably a major factor. This past fall, KENS5 (Durain, 2020) reported that San Antonio’s budget for fiscal year 2021 was hit by pandemic effects on the city’s tourism business. The impact has apparently been severe: among other things, funding for street maintenance has been cut. Like most big cities, San Antonio has also been impacted by a sharp rise in violent crime and demands for post-police funding for disadvantaged communities (San Antonio Express-News, 2021).  My San Antonio (Dunphy, 2020) reports that retirees (i.e., not immigrants) have been the city’s largest source of population growth over the past decade, heralding a need for expenditures related to healthcare, transportation, and other topics of concern for senior citizens.

Amid the many things that a city like San Antonio must pay for, it will always struggle to come up with enough money to build parks for kids and set up trails for a walk in a place that doesn’t have cars roaring past. The San Antonio Express-News (Hardaway, 2020) says it is not clear how the city will continue to fund its popular greenways (i.e., bike and pedestrian trail) program.

The Land Bridge Decision

Fortunately, in this time of budget pressure, San Antonio came up with a cost-effective solution that would dramatically improve its park situation. They decided to spend $23 million on a bridge, to connect two parts of a park divided by a highway.

Not surprisingly, this idea did trigger some controversy. News sources (e.g., San Antonio Current, 2018; News4, 2018) noted various criticisms. Some argued that the parks department needed that money for more practical purposes (e.g., park maintenance). San Antonio Report (Gibbons, 2018) said, “The project’s budget and its location on San Antonio’s relatively more affluent Northside have drawn criticism from some [members of the city] council and members of the public, who point to other neighborhoods that historically suffered from a lack of public investment.” That is, this may have been a project by the rich, for the rich.

So let us see what the people of San Antonio got, in exchange for their $23 million. According to WDRB (Asmelash, 2020), we can put one worry to rest. It develops that at least some animals are in fact using the bridge:

Sorry, just kidding: that’s the Parleys Canyon bridge in Utah, shown here with a solitary deer. A video demonstrates that various kinds of animals, ranging from squirrels to moose to bear, do indeed use that simple bridge. The Salt Lake Tribune (Pierce, 2019) reports that it cost only $5 million.

We arrive, then, at a question: how did San Antonio manage to spend an extra $18 million to accomplish the same thing? To this, there are several possible answers. One is, inevitably, corruption: big projects often attract big crooks. Due to the nature of the crime, however, there is typically not a lot of available information on that sort of thing.

We move on, then, to the companion phenomenon of waste. On that, some ears may perk up at the indication, in the San Antonio Report (Gibbons, 2018), that “roughly $5 million of the total $23 million budget is for design, engineering, inspection, and testing of materials.” Five million — that’s almost the entire cost of the Utah bridge. This was a bridge project, not a spacecraft. The end result was constructed almost entirely of steel, concrete, stone, and dirt — as you’d expect. No cutting-edge technologies required. So, yeah, there is definitely something strange about spending $5M on research and design.

Yet that answer may beg the question. Yes, some bridge-building geeks may have had their heads very far up their test tubes; but what would provoke a sensible person to hire and fund such characters in the first place? Why did the people in charge of a bridge think that it could ever make sense to spend a fortune on “design, engineering, inspection, and testing of materials”?

To answer that, it may help to understand that the park in question is known as the Phil Hardberger park. By an amazing coincidence, that also happens to be the name of the person who was San Antonio’s mayor from 2005 to 2009. The reason for the naming is clear enough: Hardberger donated 311 acres of his own land to the city. No. Sorry, kidding again. That’s not what happened. What happened was that Mayor Hardberger floated a bond issue to buy the old Voelcker farm, and then the City Council thanked him by naming the park after him. Because that’s what city councils in big cities do. That’s why the biggest park in Chicago is named Lincoln, and the biggest park in Manhattan is named Central.

I criticize that because, at least in this case, naming a city park after a living person carried the risk of giving that person the idea that he owns it. That would be one explanation for what happened here. Another thought is that, as I was reading about all this, I noticed suggestions that ol’ Phil Hardberger’s run for mayor was well supported by contributions from real estate interests. I wondered whether any of those interests happened to be especially focused on the wealthier, northern side of San Antonio, where Hardberger Park is located. I wondered whether Hardberger himself, or his friends, happened to own property whose value would appreciate due to park proximity, once that bond issue went through.

Those, too, are questions for another day. And, in fairness, their answer may be negative on all counts. Phil Hardberger has long had a strong interest in Hardberger Park. He reportedly contributed $1 million of his own money to this project. Therefore, our best introduction to this situation may come from Hardberger himself. News4 (Beamer, 2016) mixes quotes from the former mayor with its own summary of his views, as follows:

[A]s president of the non-profit Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy, [Hardberger is] just the best-known voice in a much larger push to use bond money to help pay for a ‘land bridge’ that would connect the two parts of the park across the very busy Wurzbach Parkway.

“About 30,000 cars a day go through there, so to go from one part of the park to the other, you have to get back in your car and drive a mile-and-a-half to go in the other entrance. It means all of our trails are curtailed because they run into the freeway.”

He also says the freeway makes things tough for the wildlife in the park, especially because most of the naturally-occurring water sources are on the south side of the park. …

Hardberger says that’s led to many animals becoming roadkill trying to cross Wurzbach. …

“If you have a way for the animals to get from one side to the other – you solve your water problem, you solve your hiking and unity problem for the park. And you solve a safety problem as well.”

Hardberger also explains why it needs to be fairly wide and unusually-shaped, a big reason it would cost $25 million.

“If you have it too narrow and the people are going across, the animals won’t go across. So they’ve done studies that show you really need about half of a football field wide. Then the people can stay on one side the animals can stay on other.”

Lots to think about, there. First, the “land bridge” term. The classic meaning — what you see first, if you Google it — is the Bering Strait, which once physically connected Siberia and Alaska. Wikipedia lists other comparable instances (e.g., the Sinai Peninsula, connecting Africa and Eurasia). The dictionary (e.g., Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, Oxford, Collins) doesn’t define “land bridge” to include a bridge that crosses a highway. For that, the dictionary contains a different term: bridge.

What may confuse people about the “land bridge” term is that it’s not like “bay bridge,” where the bridge spans a bay. The idea here is not that the bridge is spanning land; it is that the bridge is covered by land. For that, terms like “earth bridge” or “dirt bridge” seem to have been used in various places, and might be more informative and less confusing. But “land bridge” is the term Mayor Hardberger chose, so let’s go with that.

Another thing to clarify about that quote: Hardberger or, more likely, News4 (Beamer, 2016) got the directions backwards. As San Antonio Report (2018) indicates, most of the naturally-occurring water sources are actually on the north side of the park, accessed from Blanco Road, not in the south half, on Military Highway. Note also that some sources describe the north side as the east side. It’s actually on the northeast side of Wurzbach.

For the Animals

Hardberger (above) says the land bridge had to be 150 feet wide, so that the trail for people could be on one side and the animals could be on the other. But he left something out: he didn’t say who was going to explain this to the animals.

In other words, suppose Sue and Sam go for a walk on the trail crossing the land bridge. Suddenly they see a deer standing on the trail. The deer is clearly not where it’s supposed to be, on the non-trail side of the bridge. What will happen?

Here’s what happens when you encounter deer on a trail in Hardberger Park (or on the adjacent Salado Creek Greenway): almost nothing. They see people all day long, every day. They’re pretty tame, partly because some people feed them. If they’re actually on the trail, they amble off. Mostly they are just off the side of the trail, and that’s where they remain, just a few feet away, while you pass. Occasionally one will run a short distance and then stop, confident that you are not about to go crashing through the underbrush in pursuit.

That reality made me scratch my head, as I contemplated what Texas Highways (Lewis, 2021) described as the “intriguing amenities” of heavy steel “wildlife viewing blinds” on the bridge — as in this look out from inside one of those blinds:

San Antonio Report (Ruvalcaba, 2020) explained:

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.

Of course, the artists were not responsible for the decision to create such structures. They were presumably also not responsible for knowing anything about the wildlife that would supposedly be distracted or frightened. The artists were just doing public artwork, and good for them.

But I had to wonder whether anyone had done any thinking about the concept of a wildlife viewing blind up on that bridge. The park is closed at night, so the blind would be used only in the daytime. But traffic is roaring beneath in the daytime. A narrow grassland space atop a loud freeway might not be the first place where you’d look for timid forest creatures.

There seems to be a notion that the deer are skittish enough to avoid humans — and yet somehow they will wait while you walk that path to the blind, and they will stay there for you even as other pedestrians continue to walk and talk, along what was expected to be a very busy trail. According to KENS5 (Calberg, 2019), “[M]any say the [land bridge] will be a touchstone for the 1,000 visitors who come to the park every day and a point of pride for generations.” Most likely, Calberg is exaggerating: San Antonio magazine (2017) says the park only gets that many visitors on a busy day. During my recent hourlong Friday morning (11-12 AM) visit, I saw only a few dozen people traveling to, from, or on the land bridge area.

But the point remains: as I observed during that visit, people do use the trail on top of the land bridge. The location is just too loud and active. If you’re looking for timid animals, and if you’re willing to sit in a blind long enough to wait for them to appear, the place for that would be well off the beaten track, back in some relatively secluded corner of the park. That’s where the blinds should have been constructed. But they haven’t been, not for all these years. Their sudden appearance on the land bridge seems to have been intended just to offer something “intriguing” — to provide another little selling point for the bridge.

Again, it’s not the artist’s fault. But the big blind that I entered (see photo, above) has the kind of interior that you might expect to smell urine in, in a city park. When I entered, I saw a few little pieces of trash on the ground, and a duffel bag that someone had apparently abandoned. On a sunny day, in that shadeless location, that steel was going to get hot, and it was not going to admit much of a breeze. The blind on the south side of the bridge — the one that was built more like a lean-to, with one side fully open to view — did have some visitors; but this big and more enclosed blind, on the north side, did not seem like the kind of place that people would tend to hang out in.

There’s another problem. As quoted above, Hardberger said we needed a bridge 150′ wide, so that “the people can stay on one side the animals can stay on other” (sic). But it seems that the people took their half out of the middle. Here’s a screenshot from the video produced by the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy:

What we have here, in the northern half of the land bridge, is the skywalk (discussed below) forking off to the left, and the main trail going down the center of the bridge. Obviously, if the needs of the animals could be satisfied with a non-human space only ~75′ wide on the north half of the bridge, Hardberger was not being truthful when he insisted that the bridge had to be 150′ wide.

Such thoughts suggest a simple solution: instead of spending $23 million on a huge “land bridge,” just build a normal bridge, one-quarter the width, as in the Utah example (above); run a trail along one side; and populate the rest of it with brambles that people will be unlikely to penetrate, and that the deer seem to like. Or let the animals have the whole thing, and install an adjacent walkway, with a dividing wall, so the animals can’t even see us.

That all assumes that you really need a bridge for animals. That, too, is questionable. It’s not as though the cities of America are in the habit of building natural corridors for the creatures that once wandered freely through the landscape. In most places — throughout most of San Antonio — the animals are pretty much on their own. Why are they getting such deluxe treatment at this particular highway crossing?

According to the (corrected) quote above, Phil Hardberger is worried that animals in the south side of the park need access to water sources in the north side. We are to understand that, for some years now, skunks and armadillos in the south side of the park have been crossing the six busy lanes of Wurzbach Parkway — climbing over the 3.5-foot Jersey barrier in the middle — in order to get a drink; and then they make the same suicidal trek again in the opposite direction, when a sensible creature would just stay on the north side.

Since that scenario is nonsense, Hardberger must be speaking, more precisely, about the deer. Let us be clear: in this part of San Antonio, you can find deer in any undeveloped gully or other natural space, and also in many housing developments. They are everywhere, especially at night. And Hardberger Park has not been very concerned about controlling their movements. Except for some stretches of newly installed fencing in the land bridge construction area, it appears that the fence along Wurzbach — separating the park from the highway — has always been an ordinary farm-style fence, the kind that these deer can easily leap over, and that smaller animals can climb through. In some places, there has been no fence at all.

A real determination to minimize animal-vehicle collisions would have seen the installation, years ago, of a six-foot fence, with fairly tight links and anti-burrowing measures along the bottom half, costing a tiny fraction of the price of this land bridge. Since the land bridge idea has been active for at least 15 years, the failure to take such an obvious preventive measure raises the question of whether there was a hope that there would actually be more vehicle-animal collisions, so as to increase public interest in a bridge solution.

If a substantial number of animals were really crossing Wurzbach every day, seeking water, would it cost $23 million to run a pipe out to a low point in the south part of the park, and set it to a slow trickle, to fill a trough or watering hole? Because the land bridge is not going to do that. With or without a land bridge, small animals can’t and don’t travel the distances Hardberger is talking about on a daily basis.

Altogether, the remarks about what animals do, and how a bridge will help them, seem to be flights of imagination, dreamt up to support a preexisting determination to construct a bridge, whether doing so made sense or not. In place of such fictions, there should have been an animal behavior study exploring the real-world behaviors of these creatures. Never mind someone’s idle speculation: How often do the park’s animals actually cross Wurzbach for water? Do the data establish that deer would be more likely to use a bridge than a tunnel? How wide does such a passage really need to be?

I have been walking along Wurzbach, typically at least once a week, for years. It is not, and has not been, littered with animal carcasses. I see one occasionally. It’s not that I’m missing them. Nobody is picking them up when I’m not around. They lie there until they rot. They become quite fragrant. They are hard to miss. At present, the only one along that stretch, on the north side of Wurzbach, is an armadillo. But he’s been out there for weeks, not far from the CVS drugstore. There isn’t much left of him at this point.

In those regards, there’s nothing unusual about the Hardberger Park stretch. Go to the next stretch along Wurzbach, between Military and Lockhill-Selma, and you’ll find the skeleton of a doe. She, too, has been out there for quite a while. She apparently arrived there, not from any parkland, but rather from the wealthy Inverness subdivision adjacent to Wurzbach in that area.

According to Friends of San Antonio Natural Areas (2021), “Unfortunately, there are no reliable historical data sources regarding wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVC) under (or nearby) the [land] bridge.” That explains the effort undertaken in a webpage at iNaturalist (archive), which someone set up in September 2017 with this explanation:

Environmental consultants and city staff are interested in tracking road kill incidents before and after the Land Bridge construction, which will join the two sides of Phil Hardberger Park. The area of interest is located off of Wurzbach Parkway between Blanco Rd. and NW Military Hwy.

Despite having 12 members, most of whom were presumably interested in and/or observers of the roadkill phenomena, that webpage has recorded only five instances of dead animals along Wurzbach in the period of nearly four years since its creation, and only two of those five were deer. I might have been able to add a few animals of various types, during those four years, if I had known of the site. But only a few.

This is rather hard to believe, but apparently it’s true: despite all the talk about how the land bridge was important to protect people and animals from vehicle collisions, nobody had any data on how often such collisions occurred along Wurzbach, between the two parts of Hardberger Park. It does seem likely that such a study would have been done, if anyone had seriously believed that such collisions were frequent enough to pose any real public threat in that particular location. The absence of such a study suggests, contrariwise, that the people pushing the land bridge did not want a formal study establishing that animal safety was not a serious problem.

Mayor Hardberger expressed another concern, in the words quoted above. He complained that “all of our trails are curtailed because they run into the freeway.” He’s right. But how deeply does anyone care about this? The trails in either side of the park total more than two miles — plenty for a respectable walk. That is especially true in the north side, where the park connects with the Salado Creek Greenway, which now continues for 17 miles.

If a large number of park users really were concerned about being able to hike through both parks, they could do so by simply crossing Wurzbach at the traffic light on Blanco and proceeding to a park entrance gate on the south side of Wurzbach, near Walmart — secured with, say, a camera (video stored in a long loop) and a keycard mailed to any resident upon request. This would require a walk of less than ten minutes on city sidewalks. Few park visitors seeking a long hike would find it burdensome. It is unlikely that most city residents would consider a $23 million bridge necessary to address this issue.

Mayor Hardberger also complained (above) that, “[T]o go from one part of the park to the other, you have to get back in your car and drive a mile-and-a-half to go in the other entrance.” But, again, who cares about this? Who, aside from Mayor Hardberger and a few park employees, actually needs “to go from one part of the park to the other”? And for those park employees, it’s going to be a lot faster to drive than to walk.

There was another way to look at the situation. Some people would take to heart the public concern (below) that the two parts of Hardberger Park were distinct entities, each with its own personality. As the San Antonio Express-News (Selcraig, 2021) acknowledges, Hardberger is aware of the differences:

The “Blanco side” has more and bigger trees and denser foliage, plus more water. It goes down to Salado Creek, has limestone cliffs of about 25 to 30 feet and abundant aquifer water that seeps through the porous limestone walls, nourishing the wildlife.

“The land on the Northwest Military side,” [Hardberger] continued, “is more hard South Texas. Not as many trees, semi-desert kind of plants, rougher hiking.”

The more generous and appropriate solution would have been for Phil Hardberger to share the glory by asking that either the north or south half of the park be renamed, to honor another one of the city’s devoted park enthusiasts. Then maybe he wouldn’t have felt as if something personal to him had been wrongly divided and must be unified.

If there had been a real need to give humans a direct trail link between the two parts of the park, the city could have chosen something like the pedestrian Liberty Bridge installed in Greenville, SC. For $4.5 million, according to the Greenville News (Connor, 2014), the city got a footbridge, nearly twice as long as this land bridge, whose beauty has given them “something unique” that signifies “the rebirth of the park.” The article quotes that city’s mayor: “Greenville never had an iconic image. The bridge became that. … We spent $13 million on the park. Within two years, we had about $100 million private investment.”

A Tourist Attraction

San Antonio does seem to have wanted something with the kind of appeal that, as just described, the city of Greenville achieved with its nicely revamped park and its new pedestrian bridge. San Antonio Report (Rivard, 2014) quotes former mayor Hardberger:

The solution is a land bridge. There aren’t any that we know of in the United States, but they’ve worked well in Europe and elsewhere in the world, and our architects are at work on just such a solution here. All we need is the money, and San Antonio will have a natural attraction unlike anything else found in this country.

People have always come to San Antonio to visit the Alamo and the Missions, to enjoy the River Walk and now enjoy the San Antonio River, but if we can raise the funds and get this land bridge built, we will attract people from far and wide who will be drawn to a part of our city that has never attracted visitors.

In a separate piece, San Antonio Report (Rivard, 2014) further quoted Hardberger:

[T]his isn’t just an opportunity to get people and wildlife from one side of the park to other. It’s an opportunity to create a world-class public art statement. …

Done right, I believe it will become the third or fourth most visited site in the city after the San Antonio River, the Alamo and the Missions.

It’s not just 20/20 hindsight to observe that those statements don’t make sense. Think about it. Suppose Andrew lives in Minneapolis. He flies to San Antonio in February to attend a convention. His hotel is on the Riverwalk. Is he seriously supposed to rent a car to drive up to north San Antonio — “to a part of our city that has never attracted visitors” — to look at a bridge that spans a highway? That notion doesn’t even pass the straight-face test. You really have to wonder about a city government that believed this project would somehow be “transformational,” as quoted by the San Antonio Express-News (Davila, 2016).

Well, Hardberger got his way — and, six months after Opening Day, things don’t seem to be working out as he said they would. There has not been a wave of excitement. Recently published websites display no awareness. For instance, Lonely Planet’s (2021) list of “10 free things to do in San Antonio” doesn’t even mention Hardberger Park, much less its bridge. Nor does Hand Luggage Only’s (2021) list of “12 Very Best Things To Do In San Antonio, Texas.” Same for PlanetWare’s (2021) “17 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in San Antonio.”

The foregoing quote from Mayor Hardberger claims that this project would give San Antonio an impressive new “natural attraction.” That claim was bogus. As we shall see, there is nothing “natural” about the land bridge, other than the fact that it has dirt and trees. You can find dirt and trees on busy streets in Chicago.

Hardberger was on firmer ground when he suggested that his land bridge would be unique. Or at least there was a time when that would have been true. San Antonio Report (Donaldson, 2018) says that City Manager Sheryl Sculley recalled the land bridge being “one of the first projects she worked on when she came to San Antonio in 2005.” If the bridge had been built back then, 16 years ago, maybe it wouldn’t have had any imitators for a while. Maybe it would have enjoyed some years of being one of a kind.

But times change. According to the San Antonio Express-News (2020), “Other cities are emulating” (in fact, by Opening Day, they were already exceeding) this structure. Houston’s Memorial Park Conservancy is pursuing a $70 million project that will bury six lanes of traffic in tunnels running up to 560 feet long (Houston Chronicle, 2020) — making that artificial structure more than three times as wide as Hardberger’s. Fox11 (2021) says Los Angeles is likewise raising money for an $80 million bridge that will span 10 lanes of traffic on the 101 Freeway. Both of those projects are much bigger — and yet the media in those cities don’t seem to fantasize that tourists will fly in from everywhere to gawk at them.

Nowadays, the claims about the land bridge tend to be more muted. It now tends to be described as merely “the largest wildlife crossing constructed in the U.S.” (Texas Monthly, 2021; see also e.g., Texas Public Radio, 2020). And for a little while longer, at least it will be that. Yet such a claim can be self-defeating. It calls to mind the town that prides itself on having the world’s largest ball of twine. Sure, locals should go take a look. Locals should spend more time in their parks. But the day is past when a person can take seriously any grand claims about this project’s tourist appeal.

Mayor Hardberger’s statement (above) that “our architects are at work” may incidentally explain how the city could have blown $5 million on bridge design and materials. He explains, in the San Antonio Express-News (2020), that “Five years ago, on a crisp fall day, a group of engineers, planners and architects from around the world gathered at Phil Hardberger Park to plan this iconic new feature for our city.” Five years ago, when there was still a chance of designing something that made sense, this bridge may indeed have had the potential to be truly remarkable. Or at least some very expensive people, from around the world, were willing to be flown here — on a crisp autumn day, when things were probably getting cold up north — to talk about it.

The Industrial Bridge

For all the talk and money expended on choosing a bridge design that would attract tourists from everywhere, it seems that Hardberger and/or the city council may still have been confused about what would actually be built. Consider the artist’s conception of how the bridge would look when it was completed. This image — published widely around San Antonio and beyond, in the years leading up to project completion — appears in the January 17, 2018 report prepared by the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission (referred to, below, as the HDRC Report):

To look at that picture, you’d think the bridge was being constructed in rural Missouri. Wurzbach Parkway is in fact a very busy place. The number given above is that it accommodates more than 30,000 cars per day. It is not accurate to suggest, as this picture does, that this long stretch of roadway would typically contain only three vehicles. Also, during years of walking and running along it, I have yet to experience this picture’s suggestion that one might encounter as many as five pedestrians in a single location — or, indeed, along the entire distance from Blanco Road to Military Highway. Virtually nobody uses the sidewalk along Wurzbach. It is loud; there is always some trash, often including big items (e.g., mattress, auto body parts); there is never this kind of neatly groomed appearance. (Note that, ostensibly for security reasons (below), the park and the bridge trail are not accessible from that sidewalk. There is no Wurzbach entrance into either part of Hardberger Park.)

It is further unclear why that 2018 report included this image showing Wurzbach without its ugly Jersey barrier running down the middle, dividing eastbound from westbound lanes. As I recall (and as one blogger confirms), the Jersey barrier was already in place by sometime in 2016. The section of the 2018 report containing this image seems to have been supplied by the project director — San Antonio’s Rialto Studio firm of landscape architects — in December 2017. (San Antonio Report (Rivard, 2014) says the design originated with Stephen Stimson Associates in Cambridge, MA.)

There are still more problems with that artist’s depiction. The artist imagined a low, graceful bridge that looks like it would barely be tall enough to accommodate its image of an oncoming semi truck. In addition, as the artist elaborated, this structure would be composed of slender arches consisting of pretty white concrete beams, with a different and even whiter material — white steel? — at the center of each:

In contrast against that sleek, bright image, the actual bridge has turned out to be far more industrial:

The light-brown band across the top of the artist’s conception, which looked like it might be an attractive brick wall, is now revealed to consist of thick, ugly sheets of rusting metal. They are not going to be painted: the city’s relevant memoranda (e.g., File No. 18-5081, dated Sept. 6, 2018) refer to them as “weathering steel.” Will they eventually acquire the artist’s pleasant tawny hue? Maybe. But that hasn’t been the tendency of rusting steel, in the Rust Belt cities I’ve seen. They also stick up higher than the artist suggested — and much more so when viewed from the trail on top of the bridge:

An answer given at the public meeting (below) explained that the random holes drilled into the top of the steel plates were supposed to be interspersed “throughout” the panels to “reduce the heat factor.” What’s left of that idea comes across as a lame attempt to mitigate the massive, fortress-like feel of these walls. (We will talk, shortly, about the vegetation and ground treatment displayed in this photo.)

That sure doesn’t look like the barely noticeable golden wall, resembling a sand dune, in the background of another picture expressing the artist’s conceptualization:

According to the San Antonio Express-News (Taylor, 2019), the purpose of the walls is to “keep animals and people from jumping onto Wurzbach and dampen the sound of vehicles below.” No doubt they help. But during my recent visit, at 11 AM on a Friday, the noise was deafening as I approached the land bridge, and it remained quite loud while I walked on it. It was ludicrous for the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy (n.d.) to claim that … well, read it for yourself:

Unaware of the traffic, indeed.

Evidently someone at the Conservancy felt confident that, in fact, most of San Antonio would never visit the site, to discover what hooey this was, and that the press would not report frankly on it. Instead, the public would simply believe what it was told.

The industrial ambiance arises, not only from the traffic noise, and from those steel walls on top of the bridge, but also from the array of heavy steel girders underneath. These, too, are unpainted and, six months after Opening Day, that is apparently how they will remain. To emphasize that they are far heavier than the steel cores of the lithe white concrete beams in the artist’s conception, here’s a close-up:

It is hard to convey just how huge those beams are, in a picture that does not include some kind of reference point. They taper somewhat as they go up; but at the base, each one is about 2 to 2.5 feet wide and at least four feet high. In other words, this is an enormous amount of steel. It would be a lot even for an interstate highway bridge. For a trail bridge in a park, this is amazing. Go stand under that bridge — you’ll see what I mean.

I’m not suggesting it was overkill for the bridge design. I’m sure they needed that much steel, to do what they expected that bridge to do. The engineering diagrams included in the HDRC Report (2018, p. 30 of 40) indicate that the bridge would have to support a three-foot layer of planting soil. (There was an exception at the peak of the arch, where there would be little soil under the trail or outside the steel walls.) The diagrams also indicate that there is “subsurface” (i.e., filler) material below the topsoil. This filler is apparently intended to create irregularities (i.e., small hills and valleys) for aesthetic purposes.

Away from the peak of the arch, the engineering diagrams show that the topsoil layer grows to 3′ everywhere (i.e., even under the trail and out beyond the steel walls). The amount of filler also increases, away from the peak, because the desired gradual slope of the hillside on top does not match the more severe drop in altitude seen in the beams under the bridge. The diagrams do not seem to state specific thicknesses; but it appears that, above the lower ends of the supporting beams, the filler material could be as much as ten feet thick in places.

It is not clear what that filler layer consists of. Some of it may be rock, gravel, dirt, or other natural filler. NewsNation (Martin, 2020) says that the bridge project involved “125,000 cubic yards of soil.” SpawGlass (2021), the general contractor, says it involved “about 120,000 cubic yards of dirt onsite.” An answer given during the public meeting (below) estimates “117,000 cubic feet [sic] of additional fill.” Presumably those numbers include the full quantity of material piled up to form the hillside leading up onto the bridge. If so, they seem to understate. Given a bridge width of ~160′ and an estimated average hill height of 8′, that much soil would allow for dirt ramps of only ~50′ on each end.

Presumably SpawGlass did provide an accurate estimate. In that case, there does not appear to be much dirt left over for filler on top of the bridge. That seems consistent with the report, by the San Antonio Express-News (Taylor, 2019), that the bridge would use “a layer of polystyrene foam blocks, topped with dirt, to reduce its overall weight.” Evidently construction sites do sometimes use high-strength plastic blocks as filler. EPS Geofoam — designed to function as compression-resistant soil-substitute fill — seems to be an example. Evidently it is suited for weight-bearing applications: for example, Meyer et al. (2004) describe its use to support a roadway.

Complete replacement of dirt filler with polystyrene filler in this case would imply that the trees on the land bridge will be unable to sink roots below the 3′ topsoil layer, raising a question of their ability to grow beyond a smallish size or to withstand the tree-wrecking 77 MPH gusts we experienced in late May 2021. It is not clear whether these blocks would use recycled or virgin polystyrene. Either would entail a substantial petrochemical injection into this “natural” bridge. Polystyrene is not considered biodegradable, though apparently it does break down into microplastics over the course of decades to centuries, especially when exposed to sunlight (Ekvall et al., 2019Forbes, 2019).

The exact dimensions of the bridge are not clear. The width appears to be fairly consistently reported at around 160′, but the length of 165′ stated by SpawGlass (2021) is not consistent with the 189′ quoted by others. Possibly it is a difference between inner and outer measurement of the distances between the concrete bases on each side of Wurzbach. Pending clarification, perhaps 175′ would be a fair approximation. The bridge proper is, of course, only a fraction of the full size of the hill that has been built up, as a ramp leading onto the bridge, on each side of Wurzbach. Google Earth suggests a distance of about 1,100 feet for the bulldozed area at its maximum extent. When Google Earth is updated to display the finished land bridge, perhaps it will show a length of about 1,000′ for the elevated area (i.e., raised through dirt or other fill material).

It appears, then, that the weight on the steel structure of the bridge consists of its concrete base layer, its mostly polystyrene fill material, and its 3′ layer of topsoil. I did not see a specification for the thickness of the concrete layer, but the construction diagram suggests a thickness that might be equivalent to a foot, if it were laid flat across the 175′ x 160′ landscape. Concrete Construction (2008) indicates that ordinary concrete weighs about 150 lbs. per cubic foot. So the concrete layer may weigh about 2,100 tons. Various sources (e.g., GeoFoam blog, 2019) report that the lightest grade of EPS Geofoam, apparently suitable for this application, weighs less than one pound per cubic foot. Assuming an average depth of 4′ across an area measuring 175′ x 160′, a GeoFoam layer would weigh about 55 tons. Finally, it seems that the planned 3′ layer did make it into the final design: Texas Public Radio (Kirkpatrick, 2018) quotes Mayor Hardberger as confirming that the steel and concrete would be “topped with three feet of soil.” With an estimated 5% subtraction for places near the peak, where the topsoil layer is thinner than 3 feet, those dimensions give us about 3,100 cubic yards of topsoil on the bridge itself, plus whatever they needed to cover the rest of the hillside. Hunker (Williams, n.d.) estimates the weight of dry topsoil at one ton per cubic yard. Thus, it seems the total dry weight on the steel beams may be around 5,250 tons.

To get some sense of what that means, TCS Fuel (2020) estimates that a fully-loaded 18-wheel semi truck weighs up to 40 tons. Thus, in this back-of-the-envelope calculation, the weight on the bridge’s steel beams is apparently equal to about 130 fully loaded semis. Unlike an interstate highway bridge, those semi trucks won’t be rolling off this one. The dirt will be there, day and night, for many years.

The bridge was presumably engineered to carry well above that actual weight. For one thing, Hunker (Williams, n.d.) estimates a 50% increase in weight for topsoil soaked with rain, as it has been in recent weeks. In other words, rain adds ~1,500 tons of weight to the foregoing calculation. The weight would increase further if, instead of relying solely on polystyrene filler, they used any fill dirt or gravel on the bridge span. In addition, I didn’t include an estimate for the weight of the steel walls on top of the bridge, nor for the large, decorative limestone blocks added at the lower ends of the span. There would also be an allowance for a safety factor — which, from a brief look at figures supplied by Engineering Toolbox (n.d.), would be at least 1.5, and could be significantly greater.

Altogether, these figures suggest that the bridge was probably built to support a constant weight of at least 10,000 tons, and possibly much more than that. According to OpenSea.pro (n.d.), that puts you into the vicinity of the Liberty ships used in World War II. For instance, Wikipedia says the U.S.S. General A.E. Anderson — the ship that brought my dad back from the Philippines after the war — weighed 11,450 tons empty. Here’s a photo of that ship:

It’s not an aircraft carrier. It is nonetheless pretty big, and made of solid steel. The ability to support a ship of that size suggests a tremendous amount of weight-carrying capacity for a bridge in a park — especially for a span without center supports.

SpawGlass (2021), the general contractor, says that, “Because of the uniqueness of the design, there has never been anything done like this before.” Maybe that’s because everybody else saw that it didn’t make sense. SpawGlass continues: “This unique shape, size and location presented several hurdles for SpawGlass team members to overcome during construction.” Those words should provoke a certain amount of unease. Departures from convention can make life exciting. This is exactly what you don’t want when you’re talking about thousands of tons of steel, concrete, and dirt.

SpawGlass has evidently decided not to include the land bridge among its website’s featured projects. As of this writing, Jason Smith, president of the San Antonio office, has not responded to my email requesting specifics on the amounts of steel and concrete used in the bridge, and the amount of dirt supported. An anonymous Reddit entry claims that the bridge required 1,090 tons of steel. I have no idea if that is accurate. As a very rough point of comparison, MadeHow (n.d.) provided information for a longer bridge that, prorated to a 189-foot bridge, might imply ~470 tons of steel and ~3,000 tons of concrete. But that bridge was designed for normal traffic.

In this bridge, to a much greater extent than in a normal highway bridge, much of the steel is not visible: it takes the form of rebar (i.e., vertical steel rods), reinforcing the concrete bases of the bridge on each side of Wurzbach. This photo of one of the two bases (KSAT, 2019) shows the rebar — looking like little silver wires, poking up (and also forming a horizontal mesh) throughout the big area where they are about to pour concrete. The photo gives a sense of the tremendous amount of concrete that went into each of those bases. The two cement trucks waiting to unload look like toys next to that space:

Bear in mind that this photo shows only the bottom layer of concrete and rebar. On top of this foundational layer, there were two or three additional layers, each several feet high, with a top layer terminating at somewhere around 10 to 12 feet above the ground.

Protecting Wildlife

Why am I detailing the steel and concrete? Partly to convey a sense of what you can get for $23 million. Mostly because the San Antonio Express-News (Selcraig, 2021) emphasizes Mayor Hardberger’s commitment to nature:

Just days before San Antonio unveiled its innovative animal-and-human land bridge over Wurzbach Parkway connecting the two halves of Hardberger Park … the city’s first mayor to be labeled “green” in a good way was explaining how he came to care about the natural world. …

“[I]f there was a defining time, I think it was in college, in Waco, when I’d sit and watch the Brazos and Bosque rivers merge and marvel at those mammoth oaks.” …

[E]specially in times of stress or grief, he was drawn to the restorative touch of nature, he said. …

Hardberger revels in all that, in the news of new animal babies out in the thicket, in the spotting of a falcon perhaps in for a visit from the Rio Grande. …

He talks about 15 poets who once came out to the park and left him inspired. Or the master naturalists who have made Hardberger their home base in Bexar County. His face lights up when he thinks about the legion of park volunteers who do everything from greet visitors to weed invasive grasses, often standing knee-deep in mud on Wednesdays. …

Who knows when the moment will come, he observed, when kids begin to think outside of themselves and see the value of plants, trees and animals and wonder where they fit in.

“I’d like to think the land bridge could actually make that happen for a generation of kids,” he said, suggesting a physical bridge for the animals and a different sort of bridge for young humans mostly raised in the city.

“The bridge has been a marvelous project. How can you go wrong when you bet on nature?”

Hardberger’s way of betting on nature was to burden it with an enormously steel- and concrete-intensive structure. If he was as green as they say, then he was fully aware that, in the words of New Scientist (Vaughan, 2019), “In the fight against climate change, heavy industries” are “the final frontier. … Cleaning up concrete and steel” is “an immense challenge.” The processes required to make steel and concrete are extraordinarily energy-intensive. The concrete was made locally; but for all we know, the steel in that bridge came from China.

Try, for a moment, to imagine the amount of carbon dioxide produced by all sources — every factory, truck, wildfire, and gas water heater — in the entire United States. That’s how much carbon dioxide the world generates to produce steel and concrete. From an environmental perspective, steel and concrete are a really big deal. And a green mayor would know that.

Even without concerns about global warming, we have to ask ourselves — just on the basis of cost — whether it made sense to spend a fortune to build a structure strong enough to hold thousands of tons of dirt high up in the air, for years to come, when instead we could have installed an inexpensive yet beautiful footbridge for the people, and an enlarged culvert for the animals.

The San Antonio Express-News (Selcraig, 2021) quotes Christine Westerman, an ecologist with the environmental consulting firm SWCA, who has worked on the bridge project for more than a decade: “Some culverts beneath Wurzbach have been used for years by raccoons, foxes and coyotes.” That, apparently, is the real reason why we have not been seeing piles of small animal carcasses on Wurzbach. They don’t need a land bridge; they may rarely use it.

Experience in Florida demonstrates that larger animals will use culverts, too, if the culverts are big enough for them. A larger prefab reinforced concrete culvert would still require some concrete and steel, but not remotely as much as this bridge. Beyond the weight of the flat top concrete surface found in roadway and land bridge alike, a large-animal culvert under Wurzbach would need to support only a few vehicles at a time, and only for a fraction of the day’s hours.

So we must ask: what sensible person would gamble millions on a bridge that, for all we know, most of the eligible animals might never use? No doubt you can always find some stray deer and coyotes that will. But how many others won’t? The San Antonio Express-News (Selcraig, 2021) continues:

[Westerman] said there always will be some mystery to how the animals adapt to such a deliberate intervention by humans.

Visitors shouldn’t expect to see a Noah’s Ark of animals sashaying across the bridge just because it’s there, she suggests. Most will timidly watch from a distance for months or years until the newly planted vegetation becomes thicker and more protective.

Most will timidly watch for months, possibly years. They will get pretty thirsty, won’t they, if a need for water is a real concern? Was Mayor Hardberger really not aware of these facts when he made those claims?

The animals will stand by and watch because a hill that goes up, through a narrow pass, over a loud, busy highway, and then descends into a place that you can’t see, is a lot longer and more unpredictable than a short, direct culvert that you can look through and see trees on the other side, with no humans near. Westerman tells us that the land bridge concept relies upon a “mystery” because, as discussed above, this is all guesswork: nobody gathered data to see how many animals are involved, or to understand why, where, or how often they attempt to cross, or whether they need an improved means of crossing.

The existing culverts under Wurzbach work; and if there was a real need for them, they could be expanded to work better. According to Texas Highways (Weisman, 2021),

WVC data helps highway planners identify collision “hotspots” and determine placement of warning signs and wildlife-friendly crossing structures such as culverts, bridges and fences geared to the unique behaviors of wildlife species. Such measures are a cost-effective way to mitigate the problem.

“It turns out you don’t need to do a heck of a lot to a roadway project to facilitate animal movement,” [according to Stirling Robertson, lead biologist for the Texas Department of Transportation’s Environmental Affairs Division]. “We can do minor adjustments to our standard practices that really increase the value to help wildlife and decrease the safety risk for the traveling public.”

It seems that Texas highway planners do not operate in the alternate universe where it becomes absolutely necessary to construct a massive, one-of-a-kind bridge to facilitate hypothetical transit by a few dozen deer. Outside of Hardberger Park, there seems to be more of an interest in using bridges and culverts that are not extraordinary. This is why, according to Wikipedia, “In the United States, thousands of wildlife crossings have been built in the past 30 years, including culverts, bridges, and overpasses.” All in stark contrast against San Antonio’s one-of-a-kind land bridge.

Marveling at the Trees

Given Mayor Hardberger’s claim (above) that, as a kid, he used to “marvel at those mammoth oaks,” I had to chuckle at the phrasing used by Virtual Builders Exchange (Pesquera, 2018) to describe what was going to happen to Hardberger Park: “The proposal will require the removal of several existing trees at the project site.”

Several trees, right? Let’s have a look at a Google Earth display of the area that the crews razed, in order to construct the land bridge (click to enlarge):

About nine acres. That’s 3% of the entire park — maybe a little more, if you count all the other areas they drove trucks and construction equipment through.

For another view, here’s a screenshot from the video produced by the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy, showing almost all of the bulldozed areas (including a newer one, at upper left), as of December 2020, when the land bridge opened:

You really have to watch the video to get a sense of how much damage they did.

What was it like before? The architects gave us a nice overlay, showing how the land bridge was going to affect the preexisting landscape. Here’s the way the park was, before this project arrived:

It was forested. The HDRC Report (2018) apparently lists each individual tree in and around the construction area, with a type and size for each. Size was apparently measured by caliper (i.e., diameter). Trees of less than 10″ diameter were not listed. Brief review indicates that they removed 70 listed trees (plus an unspecified but large quantity of younger trees, bushes, and other vegetation). Of those 70, 66 were oaks. Among the removed trees of at least 10″, median trunk diameter was 13″. Five were at least two feet thick; the largest had a diameter of 32″. By one rule of thumb (Hunker, 2020), a 10″ live oak has an estimated age of 40 years, and a 32″ live oak is about 130 years old.

In this light, I found it surprising that Mayor Hardberger claimed to appreciate the park’s old trees (KSAT, 2019):

Hardberger Park was once Voelcker Farm — a dairy farm that provided San Antonio with much of the milk residents drank for decades.

“Much [to] the gratitude of people in San Antonio, they didn’t cut the trees,” Hardberger said. “So we have trees there that are up to 400 years old … there’s not many of those in San Antonio.”

Hardberger added that even the younger trees, a “couple hundred years old,” are impressive.

I am not sure how he could have appreciated these particular trees. Here’s a photo of what he did with them:

That photo is from January 26, 2019. The right side of that image shows part of just one of the piles of uprooted trees that I saw. At left, you can see a few of the trees they didn’t tear down.

Here’s a Google Street View image (June 2019) from the drier, less vegetated south side of the park. Even here, there is a sharp difference between the forest as it was (at right) and the almost completely razed and artificially built-up moonscape that it became (at left):

According to the plan, there would be a big gash, and it would grow back — somehow, someday. Here’s the way it was expected to look afterwards:

Again, a nice golden glow — of grassland, with only a limited number of trees returning. This image looks ahead maybe 30 to 50 years. That is how long it will take for the little saplings they have planted to reach the sizes portrayed here.

At present, we are nowhere near that. Here’s how the plants are faring in June 2021, more than six months after installation, having already had one spring growing season — even with the assistance of white PVC tubes watering them:

Skywalk in background. We’ll get to that. But notice the plants in the foreground. They aren’t exactly taking over the world. Seriously, how many years will it be, before these little saplings and tiny tufts of grass produce something like the artist imagined?

The situation is definitely not what Mayor Hardberger promised, when he told San Antonio Report (Ruvalcaba, 2020) that “It should look pretty good by the spring.” It’s spring — it’s almost summer — and they don’t look anywhere near “pretty good.” Contrary to his assurance, the area is not on track to be “at its optimum after two or three years” when, he claimed, “it’s gonna look exactly like the surrounding parts of the park.” Growing back the ecosystem that he told them to rip out will take generations.

Imagine what would have happened if a private landowner had proposed to raze nine acres of forest inside city limits. San Antonio’s Ordinance 35-523 says,

[I]t is stated public policy of the city to maintain, to the greatest extent possible, existing trees within the city and the ETJ [extraterritorial jurisdictional area], and to add to the tree population within the city and the ETJ to promote a high tree canopy goal. The planting of additional trees and preservation of existing trees in the city and the ETJ is intended to accomplish, where possible, the following objectives:

• To preserve trees as an important public resource enhancing the quality of life and the general welfare of the city and enhancing its unique character and physical, historical and aesthetic environment.

• To encourage the preservation of existing trees and the planting of new trees for the enjoyment of future generations. … [and] to provide health benefits by the cleansing and cooling of the air and contributing to psychological wellness. … [and] to provide environmental elements by adding value to property …. [and] to reduce the amount of pollutants entering streams and to provide elements crucial to establishment of the local ecosystem.

• To provide tree preservation requirements and incentives to exceed those requirements that encourage the maximum preservation of trees and planting that will achieve greater overall tree canopy.

• To promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of the public by creating an urban environment that is aesthetically pleasing and that promotes economic development through an enhanced quality of life.

• To encourage the preservation of environmentally sensitive areas that protect and enhance the water quality, ecosystem and the aesthetic environment.

• To increase tree canopy coverage for the city and ETJ.

• To recognize the economic value added to properties with trees and high tree canopy coverage.

That language is clear enough. The city values trees. The city wants and needs to keep its trees. One source tells of a Fort Worth developer that faced a $300,000 fine for clear-cutting a large number of trees.

But for some reason that’s not the law at Hardberger Park. You can see why regular park visitor Ione McGinty told KENS5 News (2019) that

she believes the bridge is not necessary.

“At the same time that the Mayor is having a climate change conference here in the city, all these trees were being bulldozed and I just think that’s very hypocritical.”

The matter may extend beyond Hardberger Park: the city may have a larger inability to wrap its head around the day-to-day practice of environmental protection. For instance, Deceleration News (2019) reported, about the same time, on an effort by the city to conduct a “mass eviction of protected migratory birds.” That, however, is beyond the scope of this post.

Synthetic Polymers

In the photo just displayed (above), you can see some of the mulch that helps to hold the topsoil in place on the land bridge, so that wind and rain don’t drag it down the hillside or blow it away. But that raises a question. As echoed in the San Antonio Report (Ruvalcaba, 2020), Mayor Hardberger indicates that visitors “are expected to feel as if they are walking over a natural hill” when they walk up the trail on one side of the land bridge and then down the other side.

The trail goes up the hill. There is, of course, no mulch on the trail. It is just bare dirt. What will keep that in place when a hellacious rainstorm hits, the kind that quickly puts segments of our streets under water?

Established trails in Hardberger Park benefit from at least two if not three protections against erosion: they are paved; they are mostly on flat to very mild elevations; and/or they are sheltered by woodlands with lots of roots and natural debris that resist erosion. Since none of those protections is in place for the bridge trail, it is pretty likely that the trail’s dirt will be carved into gullies, the first time a serious storm hits.

And yet that hasn’t happened in recent storms. Why not? We find an answer in the city’s memoranda (e.g., File No. 18-5081, dated Sept. 6, 2018): the trail surface consists of “decomposed granite and crushed stone stabilized with polymers.” Wikipedia explains that decomposed granite (DG) is granite rock that has weathered to the point where it breaks down into smallish fragments. Though not native to San Antonio, DG is not unusual. For instance, the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy (n.d.) says that the park’s Water Loop trail uses it. Unique Environments (2014) indicates that DG can range from crushed stone down to what Gardenista (Holmes, 2019) describes as “powdery” with “a fine texture of silt and little rocks.” Park trails apparently start with a base layer of local crushed limestone, perhaps compressed with something like a small steamroller, and then add a top layer of sandlike DG to form the impression of a dirt trail.

As just quoted, city memos say that the trail surface on the land bridge is “stabilized with polymers.” According to Wikipedia, “soil stabilization” means any method of changing a natural soil to meet an engineering purpose. Patel (2019) says that, at least for road (and, presumably, trail) purposes, the available methods boil down to either mechanical or chemical. In a mechanical method, you mix different grades of soil (e.g., dirt plus gravel) to achieve “a compacted soil mass”: a relatively smooth surface for foot, bicycle, and stroller traffic, without the tendency to turn to deep mud when it rains.

The land bridge didn’t use that sort of mechanical method. As just indicated, it chose a chemical method: polymers. Substrata describes these polymers as “essentially a glue.” On a separate page, Substrata elaborates:

There are various types of polymers, but the main types are synthetic and biopolymers. Synthetic polymers are mineral-based and have many of the same binding properties as Portland cement. While not all synthetic polymers are known as environmentally friendly or toxic, it is known that synthetic polymers do tend to have more environmental concerns. Biopolymers are polymers that are a result of a biological process. Biopolymers tend to have less strength than Synthetic polymers, but have more environmentally friendly qualities. … While polymers are a versatile soil stabilizer, not all of them work well with fine soil types.

The lifespan and characteristics of polymers can vary depending on the polymer. However, traditional applications last 1 to 3 years with little maintenance. Most polymer applications create an impermeable surface for the life of the application.

Substrata adds that a polymer “Requires a lot of product per application.” In other words, especially on a hillside, you have to pour a lot of the polymer glue on the dirt trail to make it behave like pavement.

Mayor Hardberger and others would surely have trumpeted the use of environmentally friendly biopolymers such as Xanthan Gum or Alginate (see Soldo et al., 2020). Instead, the subject has been studiously avoided. This suggests that our “green” leadership chose the more environmentally hazardous synthetic polymers.

There were several reasons to do so. As just indicated, these “traditional applications” are stronger and enjoy a relatively long and low-maintenance life of up to three years. Such characteristics would make life simpler in a municipal context, where one could not necessarily count on the funding needed for re-application of the polymer anytime soon.

Soil stabilization can assist in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy (2020) asserts that the land bridge trail is “designed with ADA specifications.” AllTrails (n.d.) interprets the ADA as requiring, among other things, “A firm and smooth surface.” That requirement would be met by a synthetic polymer like Enviroseal’s M10+50, which reportedly provides “a solid impermeable surface that has a natural aggregate appearance and meets or exceeds ADA requirements for surface stability.”

According to Hesperian Health Guides (2020), “Things made from polymers can be rubbery like shoe soles, sticky like glue, or hard like plastic.” For a trail surface, you would want hard like plastic. You are pouring a polymer on the trail to give you a plastic surface that looks like dirt.

Synthetic polymers contribute to microplastic pollution. Hesperian says, “[A] polymer can break down into individual toxic monomers that can harm you. Also … a worker may use many harmful chemicals to mold and cure the polymer into the desired shape or form.” We can hope that is not the route the park chose — and if they did, we can hope they stop. Because nothing says “green” like synthetic polymers.

We are again reminded of the contrast between the land bridge and a simple pedestrian bridge, using a fraction of the steel, not attempting a fake nature-trail appearance, designed to provide a firm surface for ADA compliance without any need for polymers.

Skywalk

San Antonio Report (Rivard, 2014) indicated that, back in 2014, plans for the land bridge included “an elevated pedestrian bridge that gracefully emerges from the elevated tree canopy on one side and almost invisibly descends into the margins of the land bridge, only to emerge again skyward on the other side and then back down to the earth.” In the final design, only half of that plan survived: there is a skywalk only on the north side of Wurzbach.

The Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy (2021) announced that the skywalk opened to the public on April 5, 2021. In their description, it “gently climbs 18-feet off the ground, offering spectacular views of the tree canopy and connecting pedestrians to the top of the recently completed Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge.” Here is a photo from that webpage:

As the photo demonstrates, the description is hyped. The skywalk does not offer spectacular views of the tree canopy because it is well below the top of that canopy. The skywalk does offer a pleasant route to the top, however. When I visited, everyone was using it. On my return back down the hill, I was the only person on the winding dirt trail discussed above. This was probably because the skywalk was relatively new, it was more shaded and pleasant, and it was where signs directed people arriving from the parking lot. They would have had to walk further to use the dirt trail.

Those remarks suggest, again, that park users may not have needed a $23 million land bridge with a polymer-coated trail atop an enormous pile of concrete. They may have been perfectly content to use a skywalk to cross Wurzbach. Make it a few feet wider, to accommodate traffic on the most crowded days; replace the land bridge with a few culverts; and you might save more than $15 million — and a boatload of trees, and nine acres of parkland.

Funding

The plan for paying for the bridge went through some changes, over the years. According to the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy (2018), the final deal involved funds from a San Antonio city bond program, along with money raised by the Conservancy. The latter included “a $1.5 million gift from The Tobin Endowment.” The Conservancy (2020) elaborates: “The Land Bridge is named after Robert L.B. Tobin, for sponsoring the feasibility study to see if such a bridge could work, and for the generous donation that closed out the private fundraising.” San Antonio Report (Gibbons, 2018) clarifies that the bond program provided $13 million, and that the remaining $10 million came from private donations ($4.2M), the Conservancy itself ($2.8M), the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department ($2M), and Bexar County ($1M). In a brief look, I did not establish where the Conservancy’s funds originally came from. Regardless, taxpayers provided at least $16 million of the $23 million price.

Texas Public Radio (Palacios, 2018) says that eight of the eleven members of the City Council approved construction. One was absent; one abstained due to “concerns with the project”; and one voted no due to “higher priority needs.” The San Antonio Express-News (Davila, 2016) notes that the city funded the land bridge at the expense of other parks that went begging. Meanwhile, the Conservancy’s contribution significantly depleted its own reserves: various sources (e.g., CauseIQ, 2019) indicate that its remaining assets are now under $4M, suggesting that the Conservancy spent more than 40% of its savings on this project.

There certainly were other things that could have been done with the money. There are many needs for public funding elsewhere in the city, and within the parks system specifically. Consider, for instance, that three miles of greenway cost the city less than $4 million (Local Community News, 2021). At that rate, a $5 million bridge over Wurzbach would have left enough for another 15 miles of greenway. Hmm — a few hundred yards of bridge serving almost nobody, or 15 miles of trail for the whole city. Tough choice.

Hardberger Park could have achieved better results at far lower cost in several ways: a simple water pipe for the small animals on the south side that cannot make repeated trips to the north side; one or more enhanced culverts that may have better served the needs of animals seeking to cross Wurzbach; an exciting, beautiful, environmentally friendly, and tourist-oriented footbridge that could have soared higher up through the trees and over Wurzbach.

It seems, in short, that the project’s advocates abandoned common sense, and service of the public, in order to pursue a grandiose idea whose best days had come and gone. As the logic of the project became more farfetched, exaggeration and deception became essential, to sell something that was simply not a very good idea. And now we approach the thought that, for such reasons, the land bridge became an expense and a distraction, even within the Conservancy, to the point of compelling disregard of other needs.

For instance, during my recent Friday morning visit (which occurred a day or two after a rainstorm), I observed that, in numerous spots, existing trails had been worn down until they sported puddles. The puddles led travelers to walk on the drier ground outside the thin steel rails marking the edges of the paths.

One problem, there, was that these many wet and sometimes muddy spots seemed to be in need of a renewed application of sand, gravel, and/or decomposed granite. Another problem was that this situation had been present for quite a while, to the point that the ground outside the trail edges had been trampled until it looked like part of the trail. Regardless of whether the Conservancy or the parks department would cover such matters, the fact remains that the money that went into the land bridge was money that was needed and that, to some extent, could have been raised instead for these more prosaic purposes.

As another example, in many places you can see signs that trees are stressed, as in this Google Earth image from one spot along the park’s Water Loop trail:

I realize that ball moss is an epiphyte, not a parasite. But I also share the concern expressed by various sources (e.g., Houston Chronicle, 2019): when the canopy is unusually thin and ball moss is unusually heavy, it makes sense to investigate what is causing those branches to lose their leaves. Even if the ball moss is not itself killing the tree, at a certain point it becomes a sign that the tree is dying. Again, there is enough of this sort of infestation to provoke the question of whether the Conservancy has been distracted.

There are other things, within the park, that the money could have bought. For instance, as already noted, there is no direct access to the land bridge. That is, security concerns prevent the park from converting the remaining bulldozed land along Wurzbach into parking space. Instead, the Conservancy (2020) tells us, in effect, that tourists will be excited about walking 15-25 minutes from the parking lot to the land bridge, and another 15-25 minutes back to the car. And they will see why this is necessary, when the land bridge is located directly over a major highway.

None of that makes sense. If you have money, you can address security concerns. Build a proper entrance; make it a crushed gravel lot to minimize artificial substances within the park; install gates and Porta Potties. If you really believe that this land bridge is going to be such a tremendous tourist attraction, act like it: make it something that people can actually get to.

The fact that the park did none of these things suggests that, once again, this was all smoke. They didn’t really believe that huge crowds would be descending on the site, clamoring to get in, clogging the trails leading to it. They just made it sound like a big deal because that would help to rationalize this monstrosity that they simply felt like building. I say “they” instead of “Mayor Hardberger,” not to deny that he was the lead singer, but to point out that he wasn’t singing alone.

Feedback

At this point, regrettably, it really might be too expensive to install those parking lots and Porta Potties. When you’ve already blown every cent you could get your hands on, you may have a hard time finding still more money to make your brainchild look more like the thing that you said it would be.

This and other observations in this post raise the question of whether anybody was thinking about this stuff. As far as I can tell, the City Council wasn’t. There doesn’t appear to be anybody, among our elected officials, who dug into the concept (or who asked or paid anyone else to dig into the concept) deeply enough to figure out what this project was really about.

That brings to mind a personal experience. One time, shortly after entering the parks & recreation PhD program at Indiana University, I asked several of my professors and classmates for suggestions on a good local place to go camping. They didn’t know. They had camped in exciting places — all over the Rocky Mountains, in New England and British Columbia and abroad — but they had no interest in camping at home, around Bloomington. This was one of my first hints that it wasn’t about the outdoors per se; it was actually about being a cool outdoors kind of person, equipped with expensive gear and experienced in exotic outdoor activities.

I mention that story because, if the politicians and the city government and the Conservancy were already biased or were unwilling or unable to investigate this expenditure of millions of dollars, a person might expect that at least some professor, at one of this city’s universities, would be clued into important local events. You’d really think that some such person would sit up and take notice when the San Antonio Express-News (Davila, 2016) stated that the bond issue funding the land bridge (among other things) was the largest in the city’s history. I’m not saying write a book on the subject. I’m just saying, call the reporter, ask questions, and speak up about anything that doesn’t seem kosher.

Apparently that didn’t happen either. From my Indiana University experience, I wonder whether that’s because a large expenditure in a local park was just not cool enough for the academic world to notice.

But there may be another explanation. Falling back to yet another level of protection of the public interest, it seems that  journalists and the newspapers tended to be interested in only one side of the story. Most of the articles that I found expressed no qualms whatsoever about the project. A few did briefly mention that there were some uncertainties and concerns. But I had to wonder why none really investigated the matter. Maybe it’s just that Mayor Hardberger knew how to manipulate the press. But what seems more likely is that the press flatly ignored any professor, politician, or other person who didn’t say what they wanted to publish.

In lieu of real journalism, what I found was an apparently official city report (January 23, 2018) with a cover page titled “Documentation of Public Meeting.” This is a familiar stratagem: if you want to make it appear that you have been wide-open to all possible opinions — without being embarrassed by prime-time exposure of what you’re really up to — you should call for a public meeting in a time and place that will tend to protect you from serious and informed opposition. Don’t make it a highly publicized meeting at 10 AM at the courthouse, where reporters and adverse politicians will be virtually required to attend. Hold it, instead, at the park itself, at supper time: 6:30 PM, and advertise it no more than absolutely necessary.

Not surprisingly, Appendix A to the meeting report indicates that there were written comments or responses from a total of only nine people, plus a smallish number of “verbal” comments made by unidentified individuals during the meeting, from the little crowd of 35 people who attended. And it seems a number of those attendees may have been cheerleaders. Most of their written comments were very brief (e.g., “Fantastic idea/plan. Beautiful!”), to which the formal response was simply, “Comment noted.” That was also the response to one person who wrote, “You do not need a bridge @ $23,000,000.” Responses to some of the verbal comments were more informative:

  • Someone did ask why there was no entrance on Wurzbach. That drew the response, “It is important to limit the number of access points into the park for security reasons.” There was no explanation of why it was deemed “secure” to have three separate parking lots, accessible from Blanco Road, none of which were guarded by any personnel at any time, and only two of which were even gated shut at night.
  • Someone asked, “Instead of a land bridge, can the [wildlife] connection go below Wurzbach Parkway?” The response: “An alternative to construct a connection (i.e. tunnel) below Wurzbach Park was considered during the early planning phases of the project, but was eliminated from further review due to drainage issues.” I was not able to find the reasoning behind that decision. Presumably the problem was that a deeper culvert would have collected and held water at times. But it is not clear why that would be problematic: the plan for the bridge included a rainwater collection pond from which water would be drawn to irrigate the land bridge. Deer could wade through a puddle. A higher-level sidewalk within the culvert could accommodate smaller animals. If you’re only creating one deer-sized passage, water would be less likely to collect in a culvert at the west end of the park, which is 30′ higher than the east end — and a culvert at that location would be nearly midway along the south side of the park. Standing water in a culvert would also mitigate the water scarcity problem allegedly experienced by animals on the south side.
  • The response to that question about a culvert went on to say this: “Other less costly alternatives such as a typical roadway bridge were also considered but eliminated due to inconsistency with the park’s master plan.” The “Voelcker Park Master Plan” (2008) indicates that community members, organized into discussion groups at a meeting back in 2008, favored a land bridge over a pedestrian bridge, “based on their newly acquired knowledge gained from the presentations of site analysis and potential park uses.” That is, the organizers told them something about the available options — and then, without any opportunity to consult third parties, those community members were used as if they could serve as informed representatives for the entire city. They appear to have been fed a glowing tale, inspiring them to consider the “land bridge to be of utmost importance” and to believe that it “should be the ‘shining star’ to make this a regional draw.” Inspirational verbiage in the Master Plan betrays the organizers’ preexisting bias: it says that a land bridge is “a most popular proposed feature,” that it “lifts the grasslands with a dramatic sweep over Wurzbach Parkway,” and that it “allows the Park to move up and over Wurzbach broad enough [sic] for the Park experience to feel continuous.” The document exhibits no such excitement about a pedestrian bridge or culverts. Its only description of those options says, “A pedestrian bridge alternative can provide a smaller and lighter structure to cross over the parkway. Potential underpasses may utilize existing culverts that might be enlarged to accommodate movement for pedestrians and wildlife.” To illustrate the pedestrian bridge, the Master Plan did not provide a reasonable comparison against images of something like the actual skybridge that would be built; instead, it offered pictures of two ugly and narrow footbridges, one of which recalled the kind of primitive, dangerous rope bridge that appears in adventure movies.  The proposed land bridge was portrayed as stable and normal-looking by comparison. It appears that participants were manipulated into favoring the land bridge by feeding them unrealistically frightening words and images about the alternatives. It was also disingenuous to treat community members’ preference on that point as if it were sacred, while ignoring other elements in the Master Plan, such as its “baseline condition” of “preservation of the oaks” and its “design response” emphasizing “minimal disruption … of natural systems.” It seems, that is, that the Master Plan was being invoked when it supported what the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy wanted to do, and was being ignored when it didn’t.
  • Another verbal question at the meeting asked, “Why weren’t more changeable message signs provided in front of the park to notify us of the public meeting?” The response did not answer that question.
  • Another question asked, “Why are trees already being cut down within the park?” The answer was that these trees had to be cut down “to facilitate geotechnical borings for the project.” That, again, did not answer the question: the very page on which that question appears refers to the proposed land bridge; yet the outcome of the public meeting seems to have been already decided.
  • A different question drew the response that the maintenance cost had not yet been determined, but would be minimal, “similar to standard TxDOT roadway bridges,” and would also have a comparable lifespan. There are some indications (e.g., NBC News, 2007) that Texas bridges are designed for a 75-year lifespan. Since this was not similar to a standard TxDOT roadway bridge, it is doubtful that its maintenance or lifespan will be similar.
  • Another question, anticipated above: “I am concerned that the proposed bridge will affect the individual ‘personalities’ of the northern and southern parks, particularly that the quiet nature of the southern park will be affected.” Response: “Comment noted.”
  • Regarding the trail material, the response was, “Decomposed granite will not be used.” As already discussed, that was apparently not how things turned out. Note, too, that Water Loop and other trails in the park were already using decomposed granite by then (ASLA, 2015).
  • One response anticipated that traffic on Wurzbach would be reduced to two lanes in each direction during the daytime, for up to 10 months, and to one southbound lane at night, for up to five months. It is unlikely that installation of prefabricated culvert  segments would have required such extensive disruption.

Appendix D to the public meeting document contains images of written comment forms. These appear to correspond to the comments just discussed. I noticed, however, that the written comment shown in the matrix — “You do not need a bridge @ $23,000,000” — was actually only the first part of a longer comment, as follows:

You do not need a bridge @ $23,000,000

You can design & build under Wurzbach Rd.

There is already a way to go under Wurzbach @ cost of $880,000.

A waste of tax payers money.

Our group will stop this project from going forward.

The name handwritten on that form is John Varga or Vargas; it is not clear. The name of the group is not specified. Mr. Varga(s)’s contact information is blacked out, presumably for privacy, as is that of other commenters. It is not clear whether his stated figure of $880,000 refers to some other proposal recorded in city documents. I found no explanation of what, if anything, this or any other individual or group attempted, in opposition to the land bridge project. As far as I was able to find, in a number of searches online, none of the city’s media published anything about any such opposition. It is not clear whether journalists failed to read this key document, or deliberately chose not to report what it said.

Appendix E to the public meeting document indicates that, after the public meeting, the next step was to “Finalize Design & Environmental Reports” in spring 2018. Here, again, my searches have produced no readily available copies of any such reports, nor any discussion of them in the media, even though they were evidently “finalized” within the past three years.

Finally, Appendix F to the public meeting document contains a page titled, “Project Modifications.” That page contains one sentence: “There were no project modifications as a result of the input received at the public meeting.” The public meeting was in fact treated as a mere formality, a minor irritant on the way to finishing what had already been decided.

Taken together, the materials I found do not suggest honest and open involvement of representative members of the public, on the question of what was being done with their money, their highway, or their park. Openness would have produced a wealth of information on key decisions, including documentation of debates, alternative plans, and prices of those alternatives. Difficult questions, including those raised in this post and those that participants asked at the public meeting, would have generated visible, sincere efforts to make sure that everything had been worked through carefully, and that members of the public were getting good answers to their questions.

Again, this is not to say that the project was definitely corrupt. As noted above, I do not have documentation confirming any such thing. What does appear likely is that an open and aboveboard process probably would not have resulted in the creation of the land bridge. Regardless of whether anyone pocketed public funds dishonestly, there is substantial reason to believe that good government would have given the public a superior solution at a much lower price.

Regarding Bulldozers

America has a long history of people going in and bulldozing stuff. We should be glad that bulldozers hadn’t been invented when they were driving out the Indians. If they had, the whole country would be torn up by now. The same mentality, in a very different context, gave us the rhetoric about bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age after 9/11 — but, again, that wasn’t our best solution. The Stone Age was OK for the Taliban. As it turns out, we were the ones who didn’t really want that. We ended up wanting women’s rights, and kids educated for the modern world, and the ability to get along with people who don’t share your religion.

The destruction is the easy part. Making things better than they were before — that’s the hard part. For a different historical example, CT Mirror (Condon, 2019) says that,

Despite massive demolition, relocation (“slum clearance”) and construction [after World War II], New Haven and Hartford [Connecticut] didn’t turn around. Both continued to lose jobs and population. Urban renewal efforts in Bridgeport, New London, Bristol and other cities fared no better.

When I discovered what they were doing in Hardberger Park — which is to say, when I walked past the construction area, on Wurzbach, and saw that they were bulldozing trees in a city park — I posted a note on the Facebook page, stating that this was the sort of thing that people did in the 1950s. I would provide a link to it here, if I could find it; but when I went back to look for it later, it seemed that it must have been removed.

When I posted that remark, I was thinking of, for example, the battle over the Lower Manhattan Expressway (sometimes called “Lomex”). Dory (2017) contrasts Robert Moses, who wanted to bulldoze a large swath across Canal Street in New York City for a freeway, against Jane Jacobs:

This conflict clarified the newer, more socially conscious planning concerns as they challenged the older, more bureaucratic methods. …

Robert Moses, the master builder, brilliant, with extraordinary administrative skills, held degrees from Yale, Oxford, and Columbia. … Jane Jacobs, the urban activist, conversely, was caricatured as an uneducated housewife ….

Moses admitted, “We do not have anything like complete information free from prejudice on the types of elevated highways and parkways [needed in lower Manhattan] ….”

Moses advocated grand plans for the city, but little regard for those who obstructed his plans, whether people to be displaced or bureaucracies to be dealt with. “If we had stopped to convince every opponent, not one of the great public works which our people now depend on would ever have been built. …”

[Robert Caro, who wrote a biography of Moses,] speaks of graft and corruption, “to undermine the democratic processes of the largest city in the world, to plan and build its parks, bridges, highways, and housing projects on the basis of his whim alone.” …

Lomex was a brilliant concept in terms of traffic flow but ill conceived in terms of neighborhood destruction. An elevated road slashing through the lower third of Manhattan, clearly visible and audible from the Empire State Building to City Hall, is unthinkable. Moses did not consider the human pain the road would inflict: the businesses, homes, and sense of community that would be obliterated, the noise, emissions, and dirt. …

In San Antonio, misplaced loyalty to Mayor Hardberger, along with apparent malfeasance and/or incompetence, resulted in a situation where the people whom the public trusts — the elected officials, the experts in academia, the journalists, the Parks Department bureaucrats — collectively abdicated their responsibilities and betrayed that trust.

Before anyone could conclude that a land bridge was the right solution for Hardberger Park, research was needed. Some of that research seems to have been buried; some of it was never done. Any “early” research that may have been done on the choice between a land bridge and some other type of bridge or tunnel would have been outdated, ten years later, when the land bridge finally got its funding.

Mayor Hardberger evidently formed his concept for an industrial land bridge while he was still mayor, and was unable or unwilling to recognize that that concept had become outmoded by the time the money arrived. That was unfortunate. Times change. People come up with new solutions to problems, including the problem of getting animals across highways. The idea that you have to ram an antique notion down people’s throats in order to get anything done — well, that’s what Robert Moses did, on a larger scale. Sometimes it worked; sometimes he wrecked significant sections of a major city.

That’s why I wrote, on that Facebook page, that bulldozing nine acres of woodland in a major city was something that they would have done back in the 1950s. That’s why this post highlights so many instances when the things that Mayor Hardberger said turned out to be false. The more you try to make reality something that it’s not, the more you’ll have to lie to people. That, again, is not good government.

There are times when the bold visionary sees something that the public cannot see, that they will not grasp until s/he shows it to them. But those times are rare. Usually, the person who thinks s/he is smarter than everyone else has a simpler problem (e.g., narcissism). There is a risk, in other words, that misrepresentation is a sign that the project’s key proponent is lost in an ego trip. I am afraid that Mayor Hardberger may have been too close to this project for too long. It was about his park; apparently he felt it was about him.

If you can answer the questions and explain the conclusions, you will tend to do so. Your explanations will become part of the public record. Your conservancy will make them readily available on its website. They will turn up in Google searches; they will be discussed in newspaper articles. The questions arising in articles like this one — questions about what park users actually want, what they and the animals need and will use — will be answered, and those answers will be readily available.

That isn’t what happened here. It looks, rather, like a smallish group of people was trying to get away with something, and that as a result they gave the entire city a bad deal.

I hope I’m wrong about that. I hope that the travel webpages discover the land bridge, and that they inspire huge flocks of tourists to fly here and travel up from downtown, so as to marvel at it. I hope the people of San Antonio likewise decide, by the tens of thousands, to walk a half-mile each way from the parking lot, so as to hear the roaring traffic and see the bald wasteland that their leaders gave them. I hope the deer of San Antonio get the memo and focus themselves on forming a regular deer caravan up to and over that bridge, pausing for the rapt onlookers hiding in those hideous wildlife blinds. I hope that, 50 to 75 years from now, our children’s children are not staring at a huge and completely unnecessary pile of steel and concrete, collapsed onto Wurzbach, in an era when the city may be unable to afford either maintenance or removal.

As I say, I do hope I’m wrong. The point here is just that there shouldn’t be any serious risk of that. We should have seen a process that gave this city the best possible outcome. And that, unfortunately, is not what happened.

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