WatchSonoma Watch

SMART buying used drawbridge to replace Petaluma span

Bill Gamlen, SMART chief engineer, walks onto the Petaluma River swing bridge. (PD FILE, 2011)


Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials intend to buy a used drawbridge in Galveston, Texas, to replace the 99-year-old swing bridge over the Petaluma River.

Rather than launch a $20 million rehab of the aging structure at Haystack Landing, and then perhaps spending $30 million to replace it in 20 years, SMART says that for $20 million it can buy and install the used bridge and have it last 75 to 80 years.

“I was looking for a different solution than retrofitting it,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager.

SMART says it will have daily commute rail service on the line within four years.

The Texas bridge is on the BSFN Railway line linking the Texas mainland to Galveston Island. It was built in 1985 and is being replaced by a new vertical lift bridge to increase the channel width.

“It is a really solid bridge,” said Bill Gamlen, SMART chief engineer. “We will have to do some mechanical upgrades, but it is a very stout bridge. The BNSF doesn’t want to get rid of it, but the Coast Guard is driving the replacement.”

It is called a bascule drawbridge, meaning it uses a counterweight to lift the “leaf,” or rail bed, into an almost vertical position. It is on the historic vehicle causeway that was converted to a rail line.

Gamlen said the new bridge would open or close in about 90 seconds, instead of the 2½ to 3 minutes needed for the swing bridge.

It also is long enough to allow the Petaluma River channel to be widened from 56 feet to 87 feet, and allow SMART trains to cross at higher speeds.

The bridge over the Petaluma River was built in 1903. It uses a 5-horsepower electric motor, fabric belts and bevel gears to pivot slowly on a turntable that is 10 feet in diameter.

“One of the problems with the swing bridge is the reliability,” Gamlen said. “I have been out there and have seen it take three or four tries to get it closed.”

SMART’s long-range plan was to rebuild the bridge knowing it would need to be replaced within 20 years.

The 26-year-old bridge in Galveston can be purchased for $4.2 million and shipped to Petaluma by rail, then refurbished and reassembled on new supports for an additional $14 million to $16 million.

That would create a crossing good for about 80 years, district officials said.

Parts of old swing could be used in other areas on the SMART line, primarily at creek crossings and to replace existing wooden trestles.

“We have a consultant looking at where it might fit and what opportunities we might have,” Gamlen said. “We would hate to spend money to dispose of it, and it is a historic element, we would like to keep it in the corridor.”

Mansourian said SMART needs to move quickly because the Galveston bridge is being dismantled this week. The SMART board is being asked to waive the competitive bidding process to buy the bridge, and then seek bids from BSNF Railway Co. and Union Pacific Railroad to transport it by rail to Petaluma.

The board is meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at San Rafael City Hall.

13 Responses to “SMART buying used drawbridge to replace Petaluma span”

  1. NoQuarters says:

    Thannks Bigdog
    i am hopeful the thumbs down means they know different

  2. BigDogatPlay says:

    @ NoQuarters…

    I suspected you were, but in SoCo anymore with all the true believers in the holy grail of progressivism it is sometimes hard to tell.

    Well played.

  3. Paul Mays says:

    SMART is a fraud. It has been a fraud from the beginning. It is a jobs plan for the 1%. The lawyers, engineers, public planners, elected and appointed leftist politicians, big banks, the elitist environmental groups, the bicycle group and the greens.

    The general public in Sonoma and Marin Counties do not ride public transportation and will not ride a slow train that doesn’t go where the people work.

    This is not San Francisco where if you are sane, you don’t own a car that you can’t park and public transportation is available to take you everywhere. If not, you can walk.

    The same is not true in these suburbs. People drive, they don’t take the bus to work and they certainly won’t take SMART to jobs that don’t exist in San Rafael or in Santa Rosa. These two cities are not industrial power houses and never will be.

    SMART needs to be stopped and the funds committed to saving our streets, roads and highways. The local polticians need to speak up, at least those who have not consumed the Kool Aid.

  4. NoQuarters says:

    Seems only one person got it
    Yes, that was sarcasm
    seems i might of hurt some feelings

  5. BigDogatPlay says:

    NoQuarters wrote:

    Bart is always in the Green, it has never needed funding from the Taxpayer.

    I hope you’re being sarcastic.

  6. john bly says:

    This makes all kinds of sense to do.
    When SMART looks out for our tax dollars like this they should get an “attaboy”. Attaboy.

  7. The Big Green Train says:

    I think we can all agree on one thing. SMART is certainly GREEN. The unsmart board can spend more green on the boondoggle than anyone could have imagined. Now they are thrift shop shopping for parts and equipment.

    What is next, yard sales?

  8. NoQuarters says:

    Bart is always in the Green, it has never needed funding from the Taxpayer.

  9. BigDogatPlay says:

    @ I missed the train…

    Gavelston is a seaport and a horizontal lift bridge (such as the close to 100 year old rail bridge between Benicia and Martinez) is needed to provide a wider channel and higher reach for ship traffic. Thats why the Coast Guard wants it replaced even though it’s only 27 years in service.

    The bridge in Galveston is actually just about a perfect size for the Petaluma River. All things considered this is actually about the first wise move that either SMART or NCRA has done with relation to that river crossing.

    That said, SMART is still a boondoggle and a real estate scam masquerading as a public works project.

  10. Lee says:

    Wow.. Haters gonna hate. The SmartTrain people cannot to anything right, ever?

  11. I Missed The Train says:

    If the Coast Guard wants the bridge out of Galveston, why is SMART buying it? The bridge is 27 years old and needs updating and maintenance. This is another one of those unsmart moves by the little folks at the little train of horrors.

  12. Joseph says:

    Smart is being Smart with our tax`dollars.
    The train is on its way. Woo Hoo!

  13. Steveguy says:

    ” It also is long enough to allow the Petaluma River channel to be widened from 56 feet to 87 feet, ”

    What if the Dutra asphalt plant was to want to widen the river ?

    Who is deciding to carve up riverbank ?

    Oh I almost forgot.. The train is GREEN !