Bridge Barrier Debate May Be Resolved in Span of a Month
[Noozhawk’s note: This is the final article in a four-day series on Cold Spring Canyon Bridge. Click here for Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen’s explanation of our series. Click here for Day One’s main story: Public Safety, Preservation Collide on Cold Spring Canyon Bridge. Click here for Day Two’s main story: Creativity a Hallmark of Bridge Barrier Alternatives, Funding. Click here for Day Three’s main story: For Barrier Opponents, There’s No Bridging This Divide. Click here for a related slide show.]
The years-long battle over a suicide-prevention barrier at Cold Spring Canyon Bridge is headed for a climax of some sort this month. Or at least greater clarity.
The start of barrier construction and a hearing on a lawsuit intended to halt the project are both likely coming up in mid- to late May. In the suit, the preservationist group, Friends of the Bridge, is seeking an injunction against Caltrans, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. A verdict in the group’s favor could stop — or at least postpone — construction of the 9-foot, 7-inch grid/wire mesh barriers on each side of the bridge.
There’s no definite start date, but Shivers said the public will be informed of lane closures once a schedule is finalized. The project is expected to be completed in August.
Caltrans approved the project last year after local law enforcement Glendon Association, a nonprofit mental health organization, raised concerns over suicides taking place at the bridge. Since the structure opened to traffic in 1964, there have been 53 deaths considered suicides at the site, and proponents say a barrier could prevent such deaths and protect emergency responders.
While the construction project originally was awarded to Bugler Construction of Pleasanton for the bid of $648,000, construction costs are now estimated at $750,000 as a result of certain “contingencies” that come up while finalizing contracts, Shivers said.
That amount is far less than the final environmental impact report’s estimate of about $970,000, but the administrative cost pushes the project total much higher. Including staff time, drafting environmental documents, holding public meetings and other expenses, the total cost of the project is estimated at $3 million, Shivers said.
The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments allocated $1.5 million in stimulus funds to the project at a July 2009 meeting in a partnership with Caltrans. Initially, the funding diversion was unspecified in the item’s title, which caused Friends of the Bridge’s Marc McGinnes to claim that SBCAG’s vote was a violation of the Brown Act. The item was reheard by the SBCAG board and passed unanimously, with McGinnes and a few others opposing the transfer of funds to the barrier project from the Highway 101 widening project between Hot Springs Road and Milpas Street in Santa Barbara.
The other $1.6 million are State Highway Operation and Protection Program funds, dollars that have already been spent, Shivers said.
CEQA violations alleged in the Friends of the Bridge brief include depriving the public of the opportunity to comment on central elements of the project and draft EIR, as the draft impact report didn’t include all adequate information. The funding process for the project — outlined in more detail in a previous story in this Noozhawk series — has also been cause for opposition.
“Part of Marc’s outrage over this project has been the misuse of funds,” said attorney Marc Chytilo, who is representing Friends of the Bridge in the CEQA suit. “That the administrative overhead is over 100 percent is shocking.”
Now that the administrative record has been completed by the petitioners, Caltrans filed a responsive brief and Chytilo hopes to get the case on calendar as soon as possible.
“Because construction is imminent, we’re expediting our briefing and hearing,” he said.
Friends of the Bridge is asking for an injunction — a hold on the barrier process that would stop or prevent construction, depending on the timing. Since the lawsuit alleges that Caltrans made procedural errors in approving the project, an injunction could require the agency to make changes to the environmental impact report before moving forward with the barrier.
Caltrans’ response denied all allegations and asked that the proceedings be dismissed. The response also asked that Friends of the Bridge gain nothing from the lawsuit and instead, Caltrans be compensated for their legal costs and any other relief the court decides is appropriate.
The brief states that Friends of the Bridge “failed to exhaust its administrative remedies” and didn’t state enough facts for a cause of action.
Noozhawk’s Cold Spring Canyon Bridge Series
» Click here for free suicide prevention resources that are available 24 hours a day.
» Click here for the first story in Noozhawk’s four-day series on Cold Spring Canyon Bridge: Public Safety, Preservation Collide on Cold Spring Canyon Bridge.
» Click here for Day Two’s main story: Creativity a Hallmark of Bridge Barrier Alternatives, Funding.
» Click here for Day Three’s main story: For Barrier Opponents, There’s No Bridging This Divide.
» Click here for a list of the various suicide prevention measures that were considered.
» Click here for a list of landmark bridges around the world employing suicide-prevention barriers.
» Leading Off: Just What Can We Say, and How? Suicide is a touchy topic for the media. Here’s what Noozhawk does, and why.
More Local News »
Construction, lawsuit head toward commencement and possible conclusion in May. Fourth in a four-day series
Suicide is a touchy topic for the media. Here's how Noozhawk handles the subject
Friends of the Bridge places emphasis on human intervention as best prevention but looks to legal system to mount challenge. Third in a four-part series
Pasadena, San Pedro bridges have been outfitted with barriers; Golden Gate, Coronado bridges considering them
Consensus builds around mesh fence while elaborate three-way funds swap is mapped out to get the job done at Cold Spring Canyon Bridge. Second in a four-day series
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