Daily Journal file photo
The heated battle over the Main Street Bridge began after Caltrans gave it a sufficiency rating of 24 out of 100 and the council voted in September to replace the bridge.
A contentious debate over the fate of a 103-year-old bridge in Half Moon Bay will be presented to the voters with one group arguing enlarging or replacing the infrastructure should always be up to the public while the City Council seeks to retain its authority.
Measure E, the Main Street Bridge Safety and Accessibility Act, and Measure F, the Main Street Bridge Preservation Act, will be presented to Half Moon Bay residents on the June 3 primary ballot.
Supporters of Measure E believe the decision to retrofit, repair, widen or replace should be reserved by the City Council. Mayor John Mueller and Councilman Rick Kowalczyk said the goal is to bring the historic bridge up to current seismic and functional safety standards, maintain a similar quaint design and make use of federal funding. They also said they want to create a bike path and support local merchants during construction.
“This (bridge) is technically historic. I get that, its value is important. But we need to provide a safe bridge,” Kowalczyk said. “The character isn’t going to be lost, the fit for the community isn’t going to be lost.”
Supporters of Measure F argue the council lost its clout when it failed to follow the regulatory process of initially looking at alternatives and that the historic nature of the bridge will be lost if it’s replaced. They also believe the infrastructure is already structurally safe and that replacing it will be burdensome to Main Street merchants and more costly than repairing it.
Former Mayor Debbie Ruddock, a Measure F advocate who served on the council until 2003, said the city failed to abide by laws that protect historic structures and overlooked the public’s desires.
“They (the council) have to show there’s no other feasible alternative to repairing the bridge before going forward,” Ruddock said.
The heated battle began after Caltrans gave it a sufficiency rating of 24 out of 100 and the council voted in September to replace the bridge. Whichever way the vote turns, the project could take years and will undergo extensive review such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality Act.
Measure F supporter Charles Nelson, a Main Street business owner, said the bridge is historic because it was one of the first concrete structures to be reinforced with steel in California and any replacement would void that.
Ruddock said it’s been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it was made to last for centuries. Ruddock and Nelson said the bridge adds to the historic nature of downtown and its 24-foot-wide design serves as a traffic calming measure.
Kowalczyk agrees it’s the reinforced concrete arch that makes it historic, but no one ever sees it because it’s illegal to view from underneath due to the environmentally sensitive Pilarcitos Creek. Also, the entire bridge isn’t historic as parts of it, such as the sidewalks and railings, were added later. The council is dedicated to any repairs or replacement replicating its current aesthetics, Kowalczyk said.
Mueller said the council had to identify a project before initiating NEPA and CEQA reviews and, although two reputable engineering firms have recommended replacement, the bridge will continue to undergo independent testing.
The council serves as stewards to the community and limiting any repairs by necessitating further elections will be costly and hinder the political process, Mueller said.
Now that the environmental review has been started, the city will be looking at all options, including repairing the bridge, before making a final determination, Mueller said.
Kowalczyk concedes the council could have initially eased the community into the process potentially avoiding the current volatile dynamic. But that “slow or fast, it still needs to be a safe, historic looking, low cost bridge,” Kowalczyk said.
Ruddock said the council wanted a new bridge from the get-go and it should have started reviewing other options before making a decision.
“We really need a strong scope of work and that needs to be done in a transparent process,” Ruddock said. “When you’re in a position of trust, you ask questions. I never heard ‘What does the law say about this?’”
The public wrote its own measure and gathered enough signatures to place it on the November ballot. The city took out some of the language, weakened their arguments and placed Measure F on the June ballot, Ruddock said.
Nelson and Ruddock said Caltrans’ score of the bridge has been misinterpreted, that its health rating is 89 and it is structurally sound although it is considered functionally deficient because of the sidewalks and width.
Nelson said the public begged the council to test the strength of the bridge immediately and there could be other options such as building a new bridge around the old one. Nelson and Ruddock said because the city didn’t initially evaluate alternatives, it also failed to look at federal grants for historic structures.
Costs and funding
Ruddock estimated it would only cost no more than $2 million to repair the bridge and said there are federal grants that could help pay but that the city hasn’t applied.
Nelson said replacing the bridge would take a significant amount of time, discourage people from frequenting Main Street and be financially burdensome to merchants. Ruddock and Nelson said the Chamber of Commerce has estimated millions of dollars would be lost if the bridge is replaced.
Kowalzcyk said replacing the bridge is expected to cost between $8 million and $9 million and although the city’s already been awarded funding, it’s under the condition of the bridge being brought up to current safety standards and conforming to the Americans with Disabilities Act. City staff hasn’t identified an available grant for historical bridges and they are harder to come by, Kowalzcyk said.
City infrastructure requires a regulatory process, which will include requests for proposals for construction and testing, Mueller said, adding that estimates from a friend of a friend won’t work.
Kowalzcyk said he’s already told many of the merchants he would ensure the city sets aside funding to host downtown events during construction to encourage more people to frequent Main Street during the bridge’s closure. He also said the public needs to consider the long-term costs of the bridge.
The city won’t be eligible for future federal funding if the bridge is only restored and, if it were to fall down, the city would be on the hook, Kowalzcyk said.
However, if it repairs or replaces within federal guidelines and with federal grants, the federal government will pay for future repairs, Kowalzcyk said.
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