[See a photo gallery of the Main Street Bridge here.]
On a recent tour of Half Moon Bay’s historic Main Street Bridge, mayor Rick Kowalczyk outlined his rationale for why he favors replacing the bridge over fixing it, a decision that he says was “extremely difficult to make” in light of the blowback from a collective group of residents and merchants, part of the "Save Your Bridge" campaign, who say they would rather see the bridge restored instead.
“If restoring the bridge would take care of the safety issues, then of course I would consider that option. But it can’t be restored and solve the safety issues,” said Kowalczyk. “I am listening to the people but I have to go against the grain for safety, and that’s a big part of my rationale for supporting the replacement of the bridge. It is my responsibility in a leadership role to factor in safety above all else, and having a safe bridge is critical to me.”
Having a bridge that retains the current aesthetic and character in historic significance, keeping with Half Moon Bay’s small town charm, is also “critical to me,” said Kowalczyk. If that means the design incorporates an arch and replicas of the 1920 posts that currently line the bridge, then the mayor says he’s all for it and would even consider a design contest to see what people come up with.
But more importantly, next to safety, is getting the job done as swiftly as possible with the least amount of impact on local merchants, he said.
“Restoring the bridge is not necessarily the quickest option, it’s comparable, but not guaranteed to have the least amount of impact on Main Street businesses,” he said.
At its Sept. 17 meeting, the Half Moon Bay City Council selected a one-stage replacement plan as its “preferred project” for the Main Street Bridge.
A closer look at the bridge shows a structure that by today’s standards is functionally obsolete, and it comes down to geometry, said Kowalczyk. The bridge is too narrow with old-fashioned road widths — curbs at an angle that create a pinch point that drivers hit regularly. The wood plank sidewalks on either side have a rustic charm but they are noncompliant with ADA.
In addition, part of the bridge’s foundation is in a creek bed, an environmental concern, and a look at the underside of the bridge shows crumbling spandrel walls on both sides with no rebar and rusty support beams for the town’s water pipe that could crack under these conditions in the event of an earthquake. The arch itself is a nice architectural feature but it’s cracking, too, and there appears to be water seeping through.
Kowalczyk explains that the bridge is a reinforced concrete arch that is combined with earth-fill support, and 100 years ago was considered an engineering marvel with its steel reinforce concrete and cable from San Francisco cable cars used to reinforce the concrete, which today is poking out from cracks in the bridge.
But in order to increase the width of the bridge and take care of the safety issues, this historic precast, pre-stressed concrete girder bridge needs to be replaced with a cast-in place concrete deck and overhang for sidewalks that will not be any wider than the current road and sidewalks down Main Street, said Kowalczyk.
Here’s more of the mayor’s rationale for supporting the replacement of the Main Street Bridge:
“All risks — legal to safety — need to be fully mitigated and replacing the bridge is the only approach that will take care of this. If it wasn’t for safety factors I could have supported restoring the bridge instead. The bridge can be restored, but it can’t be restored AND also resolve the safety issues, unfortunately.”
MAINTAIN 1+ LANES OF TRAFFIC DURING CONSTRUCTION
“Replacing the bridge swiftly proved to be the best construction approach overall. The replacement approach we're taking will take about as long as the bridge restoration options that were considered, about 6 months in total. We will also have a temporary vehicle and pedestrian lane open during construction, where as there would be have been about 2-month road closure with the replacement approach that was suggested.”
“I do not want to see a 2-year orange cone zone in Half Moon Bay for myriad reasons. Replacing the bridge in a one-stage construction over the dry months, lasting 6 months total, is a better benefit for the business community by getting in and doing the project fast while also maintaining traffic flow with temporary vehicle and pedestrian crossings. Two economists, one from Stanford and another from Berkeley, both support that a shorter project, even with no open traffic lanes would have less negative economic impact than a longer project with open lanes during construction. Furthermore, a Kiewit engineer I consulted suggested that a temporary bridge could be used to maintain one lane of traffic during a fast paced construction project. Our plan accounts for both, fast construction and open lanes for traffic flow.
“88 percent of the total funds for the bridge replacement project will come from a federal grant, which requires us to meet specific safety standards above all else. Replacing the bridge will allow us to meet safety requirements, secure grant funding, and have a new bridge that is up to current standards. The cost to the City for bridge replacement is $750K. The cost to restore the bridge, and still not meet safety requirements, is $1.3MM ”
“I am concerned that the current bridge foundation rests directly in the creek bed, disrupting the waterway and placing the bridge at risk due to liquefaction in the event of an earthquake. With bridge replacement, the foundation will no longer be directly in the creek bed and the creek itself will be able to follow its natural unrestricted course. If the bridge were to be repaired, not only would it not meet safety standards, but it would also keep a substantial portion of the bridge foundation directly within the creek bed, impacting and potentially restricting natural flow.”
An additional consideration behind the mayor’s rationale for replacing the bridge includes:
ENHANCE BUSINESS ACTIVITY
"I am prepared to strongly support spending significant resources to promote tourism and visitation leading up to and during construction. The replacement of the bridge needs to be done in a way that is responsible to our business community and limiting our approach to adding detour signs around town is simply unacceptable. The business community and the City of Half Moon Bay need to participate together on this to develop a high impact and actionable plan to create more energy and traffic on Main Street. I am open to consider every feasible idea, such as additional signage, matching funds for promotion, free parking with a trolley that drives visitors around every week, or any meaningful plan that will support our businesses. If Mauro Fortissimo can attract 2,500 visitors to the bluff top on a freezing Tuesday night to hear him perform on a deteriorating piano, then we can certainly do something to generate interest in Half Moon Bay during bridge construction. In fact, I would start this process by talking with Mauro.”