Wirtz Dam bridge rendering

Burnet County officials on Aug. 25 approved an engineering services contract for the design of the Wirtz Dam bridge (seen here in a computer rendering). The engineering process will take approximately two years, and Burnet County Judge James Oakley said it's a big step forward for the project. Courtesy rendering

The Burnet County Commissioners Court on Aug. 25 approved a contract with K.C. Engineering to begin the next phase of construction of a bridge just east of Wirtz Dam.

“It’s a monumental step,” said Burnet County Judge James Oakley, who began advocating for the span in 1999, shortly after joining the court as Precinct 4 commissioner. “This is the part where you survey, design, conduct environmental studies, and engineer the bridge.”

The bridge would be built east of Lake LBJ’s Wirtz Dam. With connector roadways leading to it, the bridge would link FM 2147 in Cottonwood Shores on the south side to RR 1431 between Marble Falls and Granite Shoals on the north. 

Oakley said the project could cost $20 million to $30 million, depending on the final design.

Funding for construction will come from the federal gasoline tax, not local taxpayer monies. Oakley said the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization will fund the engineering phase through the county.

The engineering process will take about two years, the county judge said. While that might seem like a long time, Oakley pointed out that the idea for a bridge first sprang up 46 years ago in county’s 1974 comprehensive plan. 

It did not pick up momentum. However, in 1999, after Oakley joined the Burnet County Commissioners Court as Precinct 4 commissioner, some residents talked to him about a potential bridge.

“I thought it was a no-brainer,” he said. 

Wirtz Dam bridge map
A map showing where a bridge would be built east of Wirtz Dam on Lake LBJ. Courtesy image

Oakley’s initial idea was to build an “improved low-water crossing” in the vicinity of one already there, something the county could have possibly tackled on its own.

But not everyone was on board with that. The Lower Colorado River Authority, which manages the dam and adjacent property, wanted the project to be under the Texas Department of Transportation. 

After serving on the court for eight years, Oakley stepped away but was elected county judge in 2014. The bridge, he said, was still on his radar.

Eventually, he and the Commissioners Court lined up the relevant players, and things fell into place for a bridge.

“It’s been a process,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of baby steps, and every step is important. This (step) is a big one. It will be a while before the next step because (engineering) will take about two years.”

As for the need, a traffic study in 2005 showed approximately 5,500 vehicles a day would use the bridge.

“I can’t imagine what those numbers would be like today or 15 years from now,” Oakley said. “I’m really excited about it, to see something you’ve been working for fall into place. Climbing a mountain is hard work, and you just have to do it step by step. That’s what we’ve done with this (bridge) project. 

“I’m really looking forward to driving across it,” he added

daniel@thepicayune.com

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