SAN ANTONIO, Texas (NewsNation Now) —The nation’s largest land bridge designed for people and wildlife to safely cross over a bustling six-lane highway is located in San Antonio.
On the north end of San Antonio, sprawls Phil Hardberger Park. Like everything this time of year, it’s a bit brown in the winter, but its 330 acres are lush with trees and trails for families and furry friends.
And cutting through the heart of the park is a six-lane freeway that splits the land into two separate sides.
“Most visitors have their favorite side,” said Denise Gross, executive director of the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy. “And you’d hear from people who didn’t even know there was another side.”
Gross says San Antonians have dreamt of connecting the plots since the park’s purchase in 2010. And for a decade, their input was considered.
“The master plan that was developed for the park proposed this,” Gross said. “And the land bridge is what really captured the people’s imagination.”
From a bird’s eye view, it’s a beautiful structure. The bridge is 150-feet wide and about the same across. There is a portion for people and an even larger swath that mimics the natural habitat for the wildlife that call this place home.
“Deer are spotted out here, raccoon, opossum,” said one local.
“Coyotes, fox, ringtail cat,” said Gross.
In a few months when spring has sprung, the Robert L.B. Tobin land bridge will be grown over in all its glory.
“This is the only bridge that we know of in the United States where it’s meant for people and wildlife,” said Paul Berry with San Antonio’s Public Works Department. “Usually it’s one or the other.”
NewsNation’s Markie Martin walked alongside Josh Aceves, a local San Antonian and outdoor adventurer, who was out enjoying the bridge for the first time.
“You can just run across this bridge and literally go to the other park and run across the whole thing,” said Aceves.
Aceves said it’s a welcome addition for people and animals, and it also alleviates some long-time traffic concerns surrounding the safety of wildlife close to so many fast-moving cars.
“Oh yes, it’s a pretty big concern because the cars just keep going,” Aceves said. “They don’t even stop, they don’t even pay attention sometimes. So it’s very sad to see if an animal gets hit.”
Construction on the $23 million bridge was two years in the making. Patience mixed with a million pounds of rebar and 125,000 cubic yards of soil.
“When you look at the project and everything around you, you’re awe-struck,” said Homer Garcia III, director of Parks and Recreation.
Garcia said paw prints and hoof tracks in the dirt indicate wildlife is already making itself at home. And he adds there’s been no better year for bridging community than the divided one we found ourselves in now.
“In the context of what 2020 has been—whether it’s been a movement around social justice or right now the pandemic—this, I think, is a great way to help hopefully put the pandemic in the rearview mirror. So I think from that perspective for a local community. We’re really ending the year on a high note,” Garcia said.
San Antonio’s land bridge opened on Friday and is now available to the public and its wildlife for use.