Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge

In Austin, Texas, the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge (previously known simply as the Congress Avenue Bridge) spans Lady Bird Lake. Prior to the completion of the Longhorn Dam in 1960, the bridge crossed the Colorado River, which is the source of Lady Bird Lake. The bridge was known as the Congress Avenue Bridge from the late nineteenth century construction of the first span across the Colorado River at that location until November 16, 2006, when the Austin City Council renamed the current bridge in honor of Ann W. Richards, the 45th Governor of Texas and a long-time Austin resident. The bridge is a concrete arch with three southbound and three northbound automobile lanes as well as sidewalks on both sides.

The bridge now houses the world’s largest urban bat population. It is a maternity colony, which means that pregnant females come to roost there in the spring and rear their offspring from midsummer to fall. Male bats are not under the bridge until their offspring are born.


The first bridge across the Colorado River here was built in 1869 or 1871. The original structure was a toll bridge on pontoons. A new wooden toll bridge across the river was built in 1875. The bridge cost $80,000 to build, with an extra $20,000 spent to macadamize dykes across lowlands and a culvert over Bouldin Branch. A herd of cattle once caused a span 50 feet above the water to collapse. Only a few cows were saved.

A contemporary iron bridge supported by private interests was opened on January 22, 1884, at a cost of $74,000. When the river flooded, there were enough spans to accommodate the highest stage of overflow. Engineer C. Q. Horton planned and built the bridge. On June 18, 1886, the Travis County Road and Bridge Co. and the City of Austin purchased the bridge. By 1891, the Travis County Road and Bridge Co. had failed to maintain the bridge, and Travis County Commissioners reached a deal under which the City of Austin took entire management of the bridge’s maintenance. The city was forced to repair the bridge in 1892 and again in 1897, when it paid half of the expense of reflooring, which took until 1901 to finish. In 1902, the bridge was repainted.

By 1908, the bridge’s traffic had expanded to the point where a replacement bridge was required. The following are the plans for a new concrete arch bridge: “New Bridge: 910-foot-long iron bridge with six spans measuring 5-150-foot-long, 1-160-foot-long, 27-foot-tall, and 18-foot-tall. Bridge piers are 45 feet above ground. King Bridge Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, will construct it. – Strength: 2,000 pounds per foot. However, it was four times as strong “. [Citation required] The rebuilt bridge was dedicated on April 4, 1910, and it cost a total of $208,950.10. Sections of the old iron bridge were eventually utilized to replace the bridge at adjacent Moore’s Crossing in 1915 and 1922.

The bridge was restored in 1980.

At its weekly meeting on November 16, 2006, the Austin City Council dubbed the structure the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. Richards was also a Travis County Commissioner and a part-time Austin resident.


The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge is home to the world’s largest urban bat colony of Mexican free-tailed bats. The bats live in the spaces between the concrete component sections beneath the road deck. They migrate and spend the summers in Austin and the winters in Mexico. Each summer, between 750,000 and 1.5 million bats live beneath the bridge, according to Bat Conservation International.

Merlin Tuttle, the founder of Bat Conservation International, resigned from his position as Curator of Mammals at the Milwaukee Public Museum in Wisconsin in March 1986 and relocated his nascent conservation group to Austin, which had made national headlines for its urban bat population. The Congress Avenue Bridge bats were universally despised at the time, and the colony was on the verge of extinction. Tuttle’s public education campaign to rescue bats by addressing myths and misconceptions about their threats to Austin residents was met with widespread skepticism, earning him the Texas Monthly Bum Steer Award in 1986. Tuttle’s persistent education efforts, with the help of a coalition of Austin community leaders, the Public Health Department, and news media, successfully reversed public opinion about the bats and transformed the Congress Avenue Bridge bat colony into the highly profitable tourist attraction for the city of Austin that it is today.

The nightly emergence of the bats from beneath the bridge at nightfall, and their flight across Lady Bird Lake, predominantly to the east, attracts up to 100,000 tourists each year. Tourists may watch the bats from the bridge, the riverbanks, and boats.

According to a 1999 study conducted by Gail R. Ryser and Roxana Popovici, the economic impact of bats on Austin is $7.9 million per year. Businesses now use the bats as a symbol for Austin.

The Texas Department of Transportation, in collaboration with BCI, has launched a project named “Bats and Bridges” to investigate the best approach to make bridges habitable for bats.

The minor-league hockey team Austin Ice Bats was named after the bridge’s bats.

Kimya Dawson and rapper Aesop Rock’s song “Bats” was inspired by the large number of bats that live beneath the bridge.

In his music video for Patient Number 9, Ozzy Osbourne uses the Congress bridge bats.

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Next Point of Interest: Bullock Texas State History Museum