Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Controversy over Half Moon Bay’s Main Street Bridge flared when the City Council approved replacing it last September citing safety concerns while a group of activists touted long-standing historical significance.
After months of arguments over the fate of Half Moon Bay’s Main Street Bridge, the City Council is moving to have the historic infrastructure structurally tested to determine the best course of action and attempt to assuage public concern.
The council directed staff Thursday to engage an independent engineering firm to determine if the narrow bridge between State Route 92 and Half Moon Bay’s downtown could be brought up to federal safety standards through rehabilitation or if the city should continue on its present course toward replacing it.
Some who advocate for the bridge’s preservation seem encouraged by what they hope is the council’s change of heart while others believe testing won’t matter and the council is only doing so to appear amenable.
Regardless, the bridge’s history warrants testing by both the National Environmental Policy and the California Environmental Quality acts, according to a city staff report.
Councilman Rick Kowalczyk said the city wants to change the discourse and respond to community concerns, yet safety and feasibility will be the ultimate test.
“I think the council is really reaching out and I think we’re illustrating that we are working hard to represent the community and this is an example of that. ... We’ve heard the voices of the community and we want to make sure we’re acting in a way that reflects their input,” Kowalczyk said. “Previously our engineers told us … that we could not bring the bridge up to federal safety standards with the current structure, so based on that we voted to replace it. … I think if there was not so much controversy in the community we would have relied on their opinion. But given so much vocal concern, our citizens deserve us to be thorough. So we’re going to be thorough.”
The controversy over the bridge flared when the council approved replacing it last September citing safety concerns while a group of activists tout long-standing historical significance. The debate has led to two ballot measures in June and one slated for November. Both the Measure E, “Main Street Bridge Safety and Accessibility Act” and Measure F, “Main Street Bridge Preservation Act” will be on the June ballot while a citizen-initiated ballot measure similar to the “Main Street Bridge Preservation Act” will likely be voted on in November.
David Eblovi, a Half Moon Bay resident who is a strong proponent of preserving the bridge, said it’s been historically significant since the 1980s and he had it placed on the National Register of Historic Places April 7.
“The bridge is historic because of its history. It’s 114 years old, it used innovative construction techniques, it allowed Half Moon Bay to develop the way it did, there was no way for anything with wheels to get into town from the north,” Eblovi said.
Eblovi said regardless of what the tests show, there are architectural designs that could rehabilitate the bridge no matter how decomposed the structure might be.
Main Street merchant Dave Cresson agrees the bridge is historically significant but feels a small victory has been won in the city finally issuing the testing he’s been asking for since the beginning.
Although its aesthetics seem ordinary, it’s architecturally significant because it was one of the first to use concrete reinforced with steel, Cresson said. It was over engineered for its time as it’s able to withstand huge tractor-trailers when it simply paved way for horses in the 1900s. It has also withstood two earthquakes, Cresson said.
Cresson said he hopes the council’s move to have the bridge thoroughly tested will lighten the load between the city and those concerned about the bridge’s history.
Although the City Council has a legal obligation to prove the bridge can’t be salvaged before it’s made safe, he hopes it may also be having a change of heart, Cresson said.
Funding has been of particular concern and debate throughout the process but Cresson said the city could apply for federal grants that fund work on historic structures.
The ballot measures will proceed, although Cresson said he’d want to wait and see what the tests determine before voting.
City staff will prepare to announce a request for proposals to provide the council with options for hiring an independent contractor, Mayor John Mueller said.
Mueller said he hopes the test will help the city and residents get back on the same page, but still fears the citizen’s initiative and Measure F will prevent the council from performing its duties.
“The ballot initiative has to go forward because we need the community support to say we want to look at a good, safe, dependable bridge,” Mueller said. “The council, the elected officials, are put in a position to make tough decisions to do what’s best not only for us, but for our visitors and our families.”
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