Bastrop County begins process to give new life to old bridge

The Elgin Courier: October 3, 2018

After suffering flood damage and awaiting an uncertain fate, the historic Lower Elgin Road Bridge is on the path to being restored as a public pedestrian bridge and, potentially, a part-time filming location.

The Lower Elgin Road Bridge crosses Wilbarger Creek on Lower Elgin Road. It was built in 1888 in order to help farmers in the Utley region transport their crops across the creek directly to Elgin. The bridge is an iron Pratt through-truss bridge; according to Lower Elgin Road resident Aina Dodge, there are very few such bridges left in Texas today. In 2017, the bridge was approved for the National Register of Historical Places due to a nomination letter from Lower Elgin Road resident Debra Ferguson.

The bridge was used until 1997 when the Texas Department of Transportation determined it could no longer handle the traffic of Lower Elgin Road and it was turned into a pedestrian-only bridge. In 2015, heavy rain and flooding caused damage to the bridge; debris had displaced decking planks, and fallen trees bent the railings, among other damage.

In February of this year, the bridge was offered to the city of Elgin and would have been moved to city property, but the city council voted against taking on the bridge during the February 6 city council meeting. Dodge told the city council at that meeting that moving the bridge would be fine if there are no other options, but other options should be explored first before a final decision is made.

“(The) value (of historical resources) is significantly higher when they’re in their original context,” Dodge said. “When they’re removed from their original context and put somewhere else, like in a park that doesn’t represent their original purpose, it’s not that significant.”

Due to the flood damage, Bastrop County applied and was approved for grant money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Texas Department of Agriculture to restore the pedestrian bridge to pre-flood conditions.

In August, the county signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with New Republic Studios about possibly taking the bridge.

“We are enthusiastic to work with Bastrop County and the State of Texas on making sure we keep a valuable piece of history around for others to enjoy,” New Republic Studios CEO John Robison said in a statement. “This iconic little bridge has played a very important role in so many movies showcasing Central Texas. We’d certainly miss it if it was gone.”

Once at least one potential buyer signed the MOU, the county could begin work repairing the bridge. Once the work is done, the county would be reimbursed by FEMA and the Department of Agriculture and then will auction the property to the highest bidder.

Part of the MOU stated that the buyer of the bridge would have to keep it open to the public and a six-foot security fence would be constructed around the bridge. Raymond said the fence would be opened for public use during business hours. She added that, like any other property, if the studio is using it for production, the bridge would be temporarily closed down.

On Monday, October 1, the county closed the request for bids from contractors to repair the bridge. The next step is to select a contractor for the project and start repairing the bridge, Raymond said.

“We’re just in a holding pattern at this point as far as the building and reconstruction of the bridge, but it has been good,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations with the county … and the organization Friends of the Bridge (a group including Aina Dodge). Everyone wants it to get restored back to a condition where you can enjoy it and walk on it and we could utilize it for some productions.”

The Lower Elgin Road Bridge has appeared in a number of productions, including Michael (1997) with John Travolta and Joe (2013) with Nicolas Cage, as well as television show Fear the Walking Dead.

“One of our motivations for having the bridge is to be able to utilize it and have it immortalized in moving pictures,” Raymond said. “It’s just up the road from (New Republic Studios), so it would be a good extension of what we already currently have.”

Dodge said she thinks New Republic Studios taking the bridge is a great solution and would be a “win-win-win” for the county, New Republic Studios and the bridge itself.

“Elgin is such a historic town, as is Bastrop, and it’s easy to see the history of those places,” Dodge said. “But it’s tougher to interpret the history of the rural areas of the county. With progress from Austin exploding out east, it’s tougher and tougher to keep our identity as Bastrop County, so I think this plays a huge role in maintaining that history.”


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