Sales Lag As Mockingbird Bridge Project Moves Forward

Work is underway for a long-awaited pedestrian bridge across a busy Dallas road that neighborhood advocates have been pushing for, for years.

Excavation work began a few days ago for the Mockingbird Pedestrian Bridge on Mockingbird Lane near U.S. Highway 75. Construction workers are digging out the excavating positions for the bridge's three support towers.

The bridge will be nearly 460-feet long, and it will connect runners and bikers from the Katy Trail to Mockingbird Station and other city trails.

The height of the bridge will be between 17 and 19 feet over Mockingbird Lane.

Construction supervisors say it should be done in seven months.

But it's not all good news for some businesses temporarily standing in the way of progress.

Some restaurants and shops in Mockingbird Station have lost parking spots, and sales are down since construction started last year.

Smallcakes Cupcakery is a simple business with a simple goal.

"Our cupcakes are delicious. One bite will make your smile," said store manager Shan Green.

But the construction equipment and excavating work outside the Smallcakes door has taken a bite out of Green’s enthusiasm. She estimates a 10-percent drop in sales over the last week.

"There are 12 to 13 parking spots, that are taken up by the construction," Green said, adding that she thinks many potential-customers think her store is closed, or they don't want to walk along the construction site and orange cones.

Still, she recognizes the pedestrian bridge is "absolutely needed" not only for pedestrian safety, but for the growth and development of the Mockingbird Station neighborhood.

"The bridge is a long time coming, and I hope the wait is worth it," Green said. "Hopefully the great new bridge brings a lot of new business."

Two people were killed in hit-and-run accidents on Mockingbird Lane in a 13-month stretch.

College student Paul Miltenberger, 20, was killed in the spring of 2015; and in April 2016, Dallas movie critic Gary Murray was killed as he was walking across the street after leaving a film festival at the Angelika Theatre.

"It’s almost impossible to cross, and it's definitely dangerous when you do," said Betty Sandoval, a software saleswoman who works in Mockingbird Station. "Sometimes when you’re in the cross-walk, cars still run the lights. So, it’s really unsafe at all times."

Former Dallas city council member Angela Hunt first asked for a pedestrian bridge here 11 years ago.

Reached by phone, Hunt told NBC 5 she's thrilled the construction has finally begun after years of missed deadlines, scrapped design plans and delayed real estate negotiations.

When she pointed to the need for a bridge over Mockingbird Lane due to neighborhood growth and pedestrian safety, Hunt said other city leaders agreed it was a great idea. Then came the inevitable questions and delays.  Who’d pay for the bridge?  How would the financing be split? Who’d negotiate easement rights with property owners?

Dallas Public Works engineers pointed out the necessity of an engineering impact study, since the bridge would go over a DART light-rail tunnel and the weight of the bridge could threaten the tunnels' integrity.

A big delay was securing easement rights from property owners. The sale last year of the Hotel Palomar, which is now called The Highland Dallas Hotel, delayed real estate negotiations.

"We were real close, and I mean very, very close, to finalizing the negotiations and signing the paperwork over the easement with the old owners," said Dallas Public Works Administrator Mark Rauscher. "Then they sold last year and we basically had the start the process over."

Rauscher said the primary purpose of the bridge is to link runners on the Katy Trail to Mockingbird Station and other city trails. 

"It's not exactly convenient for people just trying to get from one side of the street to another, because of the grading to get on and off the bridge they'd have to walk a few hundred feet," he said. "The primary goal is that people coming off the Katy Trail can easily and safely keep going."

Green said she's hopeful the temporary set-back will be off-set by a crush of exhausted joggers and bikers who'll be able to cross over the bridge at the end of a Katy Trail workout.

Her store will be one of the first things they see on the other side.

"The bridge will bring more people to the spot," she said "And especially if they had a good workout, they can stop in and feel like they earned a cupcake."

The total price-tag for the project is $17 million, which includes the 460-foot suspension bridge and the cost moving utilities, negotiating the real estate easement negotiations and trail extensions and upgrades. 

The bridge alone is about $11.6 million.

Murray's death is still unsolved. His niece Macy Murray told NBC 5 that she's thrilled the bridge construction is finally off the ground. 

"It's amazing how when people stop talking about it and start getting to work how quickly things can get done," she said. She believes the bridge will prevent more deaths.

Rauscher says the current construction timetable is for the bridge to be completed by the end of March 2017.

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