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Local News

Two Local Bridge Projects Face Losing Funding for Repairs

Most worrisome is the 96-year-old Cabrillo Boulevard Bridge, which is in serious disrepair.

Article Image
On part of the Cabrillo Boulevard Bridge, rebar is visible where concrete has flaked off. Officials say concrete and steel complement each other to provide maximum strength, so to lose one element is to lose a degree of durability. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)

At nearly 100 years old, the low-to-the-ground Cabrillo Boulevard Bridge over Mission Creek by Stearns Wharf is so dilapidated that ladder-engine firetrucks are advised not to cross it.

The bridge near the end of State Street was slated for demolition and replacement starting in the fall of 2009, but the California Department of Transportation, Caltrans, is proposing to pull the project’s $18.5 million funding.

Also in jeopardy of losing its funding is a project to replace another structurally deficient bridge over Mission Creek, at the intersection of Haley and De La Vina streets. That project was slated to receive $12 million.

The news, brought to the Santa Barbara City Council last week by Assistant Public Works Director Pat Kelly, means that years of preparation for the projects could come to an indefinite halt. But it’s not over yet.

Caltrans made its money-cutting proposal to the decision-making body in these matters, the California Transportation Commission, which is expected to make a decision on these and other bridge-repair projects at its meeting Aug. 27 in Sacramento.

Caltrans is recommending the change of course because it wants to ensure that top priority be given to bridges in need of seismic rehabilitation. City officials weren’t sure why Caltrans had a change of heart only recently — more than three weeks ago. The projects in question had been funded for months. 

Since learning of the recommendation, city leaders have been scrambling to form a coalition that may lobby the CTC in support of the projects. It includes Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, as well as Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara. On July 22, Mayor Marty Blum wrote a letter to Caltrans Director Will Kempton.

“These bridges are rapidly reaching the end of their useful lives, and any delays to the proposed reconstruction schedules could result in risky conditions,” she wrote.

The funding actually comes from the federal government, not the state, but the state administers the funds. About 12 percent of the repair work — or $4 million — was to be funded by the city. Already, about $500,000 has been spent on design work, Kelly said.

The state has indicated that the projects could find funding in a few years, but city leaders say they don’t find that option acceptable. Delays of two to four years, for instance, could inflate the cost of the project by millions of dollars, they say. 

Also, city officials worry that a failure to repair the project in a timely fashion could pose a safety hazard, particularly on the Cabrillo Boulevard Bridge, which was built in 1912.

On part of the bridge, rebar is visible where the concrete has flaked off. Concrete and steel complement each other to provide maximum strength, Kelly said, so to lose one element is to lose a degree of durability.

Kelly said city officials believe that the bridge is safe. “However, when you start seeing evidence of wear, you begin to worry,” he said, “and we don’t like to worry.”

Were there to be another fire on Stearns Wharf, Kelly said the city would probably be OK, because large ladder fire engines can access the wharf via State Street.

Kelly added that he isn’t sure why the change of heart is occurring at the state level, and suggested that the bridge collapse in Minneapolis about a year ago could be a factor. That, he said, would be ironic. “Are they reacting to the tragedy of Minnesota? If they are, they are missing the point,” he said. “That was a structural failure.”

Meanwhile, the bridge at Haley and De La Vina streets was built in 1915. As part of that project, the city already had begun negotiating with neighbors on whose properties the bridgework would encroach. Some neighbors were expected to lose portions of their properties permanently in return for city compensation, while for others the inconvenience would be temporary.

In preparation for the negotiations, the city in early July passed a resolution granting the city attorney the authority to initiate eminent domain litigation through the Superior Court if owners refuse to accept the city’s offers to purchase their properties.

In addition to enhancing safety, the project also has a restoration component, in that the bridge’s concrete would be removed from Mission Creek, Councilwoman Helene Schneider said.

The proposed bridge project is also part of an effort to prevent the kind of major flooding that plagued the area in the 1990s.

“It just really throws a monkey wrench in the plans,” Schneider said.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

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