Supes hold EIR hearing on Watmaugh Bridge
THE WATMAUGH BRIDGE is slated to be replaced.
Last Tuesday’s pubic hearing at the Board of Supervisors on the draft environmental impact report for the Watmaugh Bridge was unexpectedly short because only two people showed up to comment on the project.
In July, the Supervisors awarded a design contract for a new bridge to a Long Beach engineering firm for $500,000.
The existing bridge, which was built in 1929, has a sufficiency rating of 4 out of a possible 100. The Mississippi River bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis five years ago, by comparison, had a sufficiency rating of 50.
The county and neighbors have been wrangling over the bridge for the past two-and-a-half years, with the county proposing various options and the neighbors protesting every step of the way.
After first proposing a 40-foot-wide bridge, the county scaled it back to a 32-foot-wide structure with two 11-foot travel lanes and two five-foot-wide shoulders for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The county would also incorporate the trusses from the bridge, but as ornamental and not structural features.
The county even proposed building a bridge just downstream and leaving the present bridge standing, but that proposal would have entailed more rights-of-way, probably through eminent domain, and that proposal was short-lived.
The draft environmental impact report looked at three issues – aesthetics, cultural resources and land use and planning.
The draft EIR also examined alternatives that were considered but rejected.
The alternatives included:
• No project, and leaving the bridge open until the county or Caltrans deems it unsafe and closes it.
• A seismic retrofit estimated at $1.9 million. But it wouldn’t eliminate structural deficiencies, increase load limits, provide shoulder widths or improve site distance and road alignment.
• Rehabilitation, estimated at $6.1 million. But county staff decided that rehabilitating the bridge would result in a sufficiency rating of only 59, which is below the 80 that is needed for federal funding.
• Replacing the existing bridge is estimated at $5.1 million. This option would have a sufficiency rating of 94, making it eligible for federal funding.
• Replacing the existing bridge downstream at an estimated cost of $5 million.
• Replacing the structure with a steel arch bridge at an estimated cost of $8 million to $10 million. But that would require a county share estimated at $3 million to $5 million and the report concluded it was economically infeasible.
Gail Johnson, one of the neighbors, told the supervisors that she just returned from a trip along the Oregon coast and saw “gorgeous bridges. I never saw any of the bridges encased …” She said if the Watmaugh Bridge is replaced, it will be one more historic bridge gone.
Johnson also said that a new bridge could increase speeds along Watmaugh Road. “It’s posted at 35 (miles an hour) but people are going faster. They’re not going to slow down, and I can see 50- to 60-miles-an- hour.”
Patti Daffurn wanted to know if any of the Supervisors had been to the bridge lately. None of the Supervisors answered, but they aren’t allowed to answer questions during public comment.
She said that historic bridges are “part of our past,” adding that she hasn’t seen anything that says the bridge couldn’t be rehabilitated.
“Does it need to be demolished?” she asked. “It looks like demolition by neglect. There has been no maintenance over the life of the bridge.”
Anyone who missed the public hearing can submit comments until 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14. Comments can be submitted to Rich Stabler, Environmental Specialist/Biologist, Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department, 2550 Ventura, Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95403-2829.
The matter will come back to the Supervisors again on Dec. 4.