By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Healdsburg loves its vintage bridge over the Russian River and wants to save it, not replace it.
But convincing Caltrans officials to approve the money to rehabilitate the span is proving to be a tough sell.
Frustrated by Caltrans’ reluctance to sign off on the $12 million upgrade for the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge, the City Council has decided to enlist the help of state legislators and congressional representatives to exert pressure on the transportation agency.
“We’re doing everything in our power to get them to say ‘yes,’ ” Healdsburg Public Works Director Mike Kirn said of the need for Caltrans to consent to the rehabilitation project.
“Their senior engineer (has) continued to put up obstacles,” Mayor Tom Chambers said.
The resistance stems from the fact that the 1921 bridge does not meet modern standards for width, height and sight distance. Caltrans considers it functionally obsolete.
The bridge also needs seismic work to better withstand earthquakes.
But the primary issue is width. The two-lane bridge has travel lanes of less than 10 feet, with no shoulders.
The modern standard is 12-foot-wide lanes, with six-foot shoulders and five-foot wide sidewalks, Kirn said.
To cope with the antiquated width, the city has a maximum weight limit that effectively restricts certain vehicles, such as semi-trucks, school buses and fire engines. The speed limit of 15 mph also is intended to minimize accidents.
Last year, the city held a series of workshops and meetings to help determine its future. The bridge once was the main southern entry point on Old Redwood Highway before the freeway was built to the west with a wider bridge.
The overwhelming response voiced at the meetings was to preserve Memorial Bridge rather than build a wider crossing estimated at $25 million.
Environmental studies are still under way, but the City Council favored a rehabilitation project that includes sandblasting and painting the bridge, repairing damaged structural members, installing a new deck and making railing safety improvements. The city also intends to bolster the bridge to better withstand flooding and erosion.
City officials said Caltrans keeps asking for additional information.
“I think the reason they are dragging their feet is they say it has some deficiencies and it will be on their list of deficient bridges in terms of satisfying regulations,” Chambers said.
Even without Caltrans’ cooperation, he said some improvements could proceed.
“At the end of the day, if we are denied that would be unfortunate,” he said, adding there are funds to do a seismic retrofit.
“We could do that portion, take care of of the scouring and structural issues,” Chambers said. “We could probably leave it be at that point. It would be a little better off.”
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.