STAFF WRITER JARED FIELDS
For 220 days, residents south of the Llano River looked across to a community they could no longer quickly reach. Short trips to the grocery store or school had become 45-minute treks after a flood on October 16, 2018, destroyed the old RM 2900 bridge in Kingsland.
Those communities were reunited May 24 with the opening of the new bridge as local, state, and federal representatives gathered with residents to celebrate.
The scene was festival-like. The Hill Country Community Band played patriotic tunes while schoolchildren ran about in matching T-shirts and locals crowded around a tent to listen to leaders speak about the extraordinary achievement of building a new bridge less than a year after the old one was destroyed.
“The RM 2900 bridge once again takes its place on the Hill Country horizon. Never has a mass of concrete looked so good,” said Texas Department of Transportation Austin District Engineer Terry McCoy to applause. “Today, we celebrate the bridging of two communities.”
The $17.3 million bridge includes 12-foot travel lanes, 6-foot shoulders, and a 6-foot pedestrian sidewalk. About 5,600 vehicles per day travel on Ranch-to-Market 2900.
“We have built this bridge to withstand future flooding events like the one that occurred in October, with deeper column shafts and a secured bridge deck,” McCoy said.
Local and TxDOT officials were joined by US Senator John Cornyn, US Senator Ted Cruz, US Representative Roger Williams, and State Representative Andrew Murr.
Cornyn commended the groups that made the new bridge a reality despite the frustrating delay on a federal disaster declaration.
“You are an example of how close collaboration and the can-do spirit can make sure the local, state, and federal jurisdictions can lead to some pretty incredible and speedy results,” he said.
Cruz, who visited affected areas in Burnet and Llano counties two days after the flood, reminisced about what he saw then and how the community has rallied together in the months since.
“I remember standing right there and looking out at what used to be a bridge that was completely swept away as if by the hand of God. I remember seeing all the families that suffered loss. But I got to tell you: One of the incredible things, one of the real blessings of representing the state of Texas, is you get to see Texans on the other side of disaster. You get to see Texans on the other side of terrible tragedies. And what is consistent over and over and over again — whether it’s Hurricane Harvey or the flooding here — is that, in times of trouble, Texans come together,” Cruz said.
Murr said he was displaced from his home in Junction for three weeks because of the flood.
“My service to this state has always been inspired by the people I represent,” he said. “And this is just another example of the resiliency in the face of hardship demonstrated by our community that, come hell or high water, God will bless Texas.”
Texas Transportation Commission Chairman J. Bruce Bugg Jr. also spoke during the ceremony, recalling a story from the day of the flood.
Bugg was set to speak at an event and was shown a video of the bridge washing away before taking the stage.
“It didn’t take any time at all. I said, ‘We need to build a better bridge for the people of Kingsland and we need to build it in historic time,’” Bugg said. “And ladies and gentlemen, that’s what we have done and that’s what we celebrate today.”
Llano County representatives had their turn to speak before the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
County Judge Ron Cunningham said the county has 230 miles of shoreline on rivers and lakes, and that, during the flood, all of it was quickly rising. First responders and volunteer agencies all were affected during that time, he said.
“None of the resilient response that we’ve had in this county could have happened had it not been for the can-do attitude of the people in this community,” Cunningham said. “You all certainly need to commend yourselves for what happened in this community and building it back. It couldn’t have happened without you.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Linda Raschke praised the community for supporting the construction crews and the construction crews for the work they performed.
“You gave up holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and many other special days to ensure we had a bridge in record-breaking time. I appreciate the time, effort, and dedication,” she said. “Taking care of the community is something Kingsland is remarkable at doing. And, once again, you all came and did the extra mile. I’m so proud of this community and the way we came together and the way we took care of one another. It makes my heart full.”
Mike Sandoval, Precinct 3 commissioner, saved some time and said he agreed with everything the previous speakers had said. What Sandoval wanted to talk about May 24 was a flyover just after the ribbon cutting by his friend Rick Kelley in a Nanchang CJ-6.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Peter Jones, who represents Horseshoe Bay and communities on the south side of the Llano River, did not speak during the ceremony. After the ribbon cutting, however, Jones took a couple moments to share his thoughts on what impressed him about the process.
“In twenty days, they were able to plan, engineer, fund, and contract for the bridge. In twenty days, that’s amazing,” Jones said. “And the fact they could complete (the bridge) in seven months is also amazing.”
Capital Excavation Company was awarded the contract just 15 days after the flood.
After all the speeches, officials, residents, first responders, and the media made their way to the middle of the bridge for a ceremonial ribbon cutting.
A fire truck from the Kingsland Volunteer Fire Department met one from the Sunrise Beach Volunteer Fire Department in a scene similar to the golden spike at the joining of the Transcontinental Railroad.
As the crowd dissipated, Kelley flew over in his Nanchang CJ-6 once then came back and performed a barrel-roll on the second pass.
Before 5 PM that day, traffic on the bridge opened and a stream of about 20 vehicles slowly made their way across. Cheers could be heard for the first vehicles over the bridge from people sitting outside at Boat Town Burger Bar.
Some minor finishing touches have to be completed on the bridge. Traffic can cross, but some work remains on the outside of the bridge, and the pedestrian sidewalk is not yet complete. An extra coat of paint on the stripes also needs to be done.
The May 24 event was about celebrating the bridge’s opening to traffic. Looking ahead to the 50th annual AquaBoom celebration during the week of July 4, McCoy said, “Everything is good.”
A bridge party hosted by AquaBoom organizers and Boat Town Burger Bar is 9 AM to 5 PM on Thursday, May 30. KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune will be broadcasting live from the event. Listen for details.