The MKT Bridge is estimated to be more than 100 years old, according to a spokesperson for the Houston Parks Board.
Some avid cyclists and pedestrians in the Heights might feel like it’s been at least that long since the popular pathway has been closed.
But there is a light at the end of the bridge, which has been out of commission since it was damaged by fire last August. The nonprofit parks board, which has historically provided financial support for maintenance of the city-owned bridge, announced June 3 that repairs would soon begin.
Beth White, the president and CEO for the parks board, said she realizes the value of the bridge, which connects the Heights Hike-and-Bike Trail and White Oak Bayou Trail while providing a path to downtown. She also knows community members have been “really frustrated,” because the process of repairing the bridge has seemed “to take a long time.”
“Even the impatience is appreciated,” White said. “It shows how important these connections are for this (trail) system. For a lot of people, this is their daily commute. It’s how they get to work or get to the grocery store or get out and exercise. We get it. We’re just thrilled we’re able to move this forward and get these repairs done, hopefully in time for Labor Day.”
The parks board said the repair work will be completed by Times Construction and is expected take between 60 and 90 days, weather permitting, and will include the replacement of damaged bridge piles, the abutment backwall and deck expansion joint. The cost of repairs is estimated to be $193,202, according to the parks board, with funds coming from the Bayou Greenways Conservation and Maintenance budget.
A spokesperson for the parks board said the bridge had an average of 1,200 users per day before the fire. Data for May of last year indicated that nearly 64,000 people used the White Oak Bayou Greenway Trail, which is near the bridge, on a weekly basis.
“The HHA is thrilled the work is finally getting underway,” the Houston Heights Association said in a statement. “Our neighborhood is ready to have this highly traveled connector reopened.”
White said the damage to the bridge, which did not collapse during the fire, was not as bad as initially feared. She said getting it fixed has still been “painstaking work.”
Engineers did a meticulous damage assessment to ensure the structural integrity of the bridge, White said, and the parks board’s repair plans had to be approved by the Harris County Flood Control District and then by the City of Houston, which owns the bridge and adjacent land.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” White said. “We would rather take time on the front end and make sure we get it right.”
Shortly before the fire on Aug. 19, 2020, the parks board managed and paid for structural repairs to the bridge, including the replacement of timber support piles with steel columns.
Until the new round of repairs is complete, trail users coming from the Heights must continue to take a detour in order to cross White Oak Bayou and Interstate 10 to access Sawyer Yards or downtown. Instead of proceeding southeast across the bridge, trail users must go northwest to Heights Boulevard, take the Paul Carr Jogging Trail south across I-10, and then head northeast along the White Oak Bayou Trail until it connects to the other side of the bridge, just northwest of Studemont Street.
The construction work could be completed around the same time as the installation of the MKT Trail Spur Connector, which will begin just northwest of the bridge and extend east until it connects with the White Oak Bayou Greenway Trail. The latter trail runs further east through Stude Park and along White Oak Bayou, which meanders southeast until reaching downtown and connecting with Buffalo Bayou.
Additionally, the parks board recently unveiled Bayou Greenways Park, which is a 1.47-acre space between the southeast end of the MKT Bridge and Studemont Street. The park was designed to “provide an oasis for the highly used trails along White Oak Bayou,” according to the parks board.
So when the trail connector and bridge repairs are both complete, there will be a series of like-new outdoor amenities in the southern portion of the Heights.
“Think about all the different ways you’re going to be able to navigate that area,” White said. “I think it’s going to be an incredible nexus.”