Supes vote dooms Watmaugh Bridge
THE AGING WATMAUGH BRIDGE will be replaced.
Despite impassioned pleas from neighbors and supporters of the Watmaugh Bridge, the county’s Board of Supervisors sealed the deteriorating bridge’s fate Tuesday.
In a unanimous straw vote, the Supervisors approved the environmental impact review (EIR), thus allowing the project that will replace the 85-year-old bridge, to continue.
The vote ends a 2-1/2-year battle between the county and neighbors and supporters of the bridge. The issue comes back to the Supervisors next Tuesday, but it will be on the consent calendar that contains items that are grouped and passed en masse.
Eight bridge supporters pleaded with the Supervisors to reconsider their decision to replace the aging structure.
Supporter Gail Johnson said her big issue is the process. “This hasn’t been studied,” she said. “All you’ve looked at is replacement.”
She said the project needs a full EIR and asked the Supervisors to postpone a decision until a new supervisor – Susan Gorin – is seated.
“It seems like you want to get this done before (1st District Supervisor) Valerie Brown leaves the board,” she said.
Ken Niles said it seemed to him that the attitude was, just because it’s 85-years-old, it needs to be replaced.
“The county never spent any money on it,” he said. “Money for a retrofit is available and it would only take six months.”
Niles called the EIR “flawed” and “inadequate.”
“Maybe a retrofit would cost $6 million – but you don’t know,” he added. “The incoming supervisor needed a chance to look at the EIR.”
Yvonne Bowers said her concern was that the supervisors were ignoring a county regulation that a previous board passed 14 years ago protecting historic bridges.
“From the get-go, it seemed like you wanted to replace the bridge,” she said.
Johanna Patri complained, “the citizens do not feel that they’ve been heard,” and said that building a parallel bridge – as once suggested as an option – would take out the front yard of one of the neighbors.
But Tom O’Kane, the county’s co-interim public works and transportation director, said after more than 2-1/2-years, nothing has changed. “It’s functionally obsolete and structurally deficient,” he said. “Caltrans called it one of the worst bridges in the state.”
Supervisor Brown said she’s done everything humanly possible to get supporters what they want. The bridge’s trusses will be used on the new bridge, but will be ornamental instead of structural.
The current bridge is 22-feet wide with no room for pedestrians or bicycles. The replacement bridge would be 32-feet wide with two 11-foot traffic lanes and two five-foot pedestrian/bike lanes.
Brown took umbrage with the suggestion that the supervisors were trying to get it replaced while she was still on the board. “As of today, I’m as responsible as I was the day I took office,” she said. And she said replacing the bridge was a public safety issue.
“It has a sufficiency rating of 4 out of 100,” Brown said. “That bridge is problematic.”
Brown said that during a recent meeting with Caltrans, the state agency was asked about a retrofit and county officials were told that Caltrans isn’t going to put any money into a project that only has short-term viability.
Supervisor David Rabbit, an architect, said the bridge is a “very pretty bridge. But it’s also an 85-year-old bridge.”
Addressing comments that other states seem to be able to save their bridges, he said California has special seismic requirements. “We have more in common with Japan than Connecticut,” he said.
“How can public safety not be number one?” he asked rhetorically.
And board Chair Shirlee Zane, an avid bike rider, said the bridge is replicable. “Bikes are a legitimate form of transportation,” she said. “It’s not an issue with permission.”
The replacement bridge is now being designed, a process that should be done within 12 months, at which time it will go out for bids.