To Repair or to Replace the Main Street Bridge?

At Wednesday's bridge meeting, Main Street merchants want Half Moon Bay City Council members 'to explore every possible means of repairing the bridge' instead of replacing it and shutting down access to a portion of Main Street for a year

On Wednesday, Feb. 6, from 7 to 9 p.m. the public is invited to attend a meeting at the Department Operations Center at 537 Kelly Ave. in Half Moon Bay regarding the Main Street Bridge project, which proposes to either repair the existing 110-year-old bridge or completely replace it with a new one.

[Note: This is a Community Meeting hosted by the City of Half Moon Bay. It is not a regularly scheduled City Council Meeting, but an opportunity for the city to share information and answer the public's questions on the proposed bridge project. A second Community Meeting will be held on Feb. 13 at the same location.]

The historic Main Street Bridge over Pilarcitos Creek has been deemed by the State inspector as “structurally deficient and functionally obsolete” and could collapse in a natural disaster. A couple of years ago, the City of Half Moon Bay successfully applied for $7 million in federal reimbursements to build a safer span.

Still, the fate of the 64-foot-wide and 120-foot long bridge, made of a precast, pre-stressed concrete girder, is unknown at this time as the City of Half Moon Bay continues its ongoing engagement with impacted businesses and residents as part of the project planning process.  

Mayor Rick Kowalczyk is hopeful that there will be a meaningful sharing of community interests and professional engineering perspective regarding the bridge at Wednesday’s meeting, “building upon previous meetings and setting the stage for other upcoming meetings about the bridge,” he said.

“The bridge project could end up being significantly disruptive to Main Street, and I need to be absolutely certain that the approach we take is the best possible path to follow for all involved," he said. "My personal goal is to listen to all parties so that I fully understand all facets that need to be considered. I expect to come away with some answers and some questions that I'll need to follow up on with City staff.”

On the one hand, the City Council is considering designs for the replacement of the Main Street Bridge — a prolonged construction project that would close the entry to Main Street from Highway 92 for a year and re-route the traffic to Main Street via Kelly Avenue. While on the other hand, Main Street merchants are convinced that the bridge can be fixed more affordably by restoring it instead of completely replacing it and disrupting traffic. 

Actual construction is not scheduled to begin until 2014. City engineers have suggested that the bridge could be rebuilt while keeping one lane open at all times but this would prolong construction to take five years.

“The replacement of this venerable bridge will disrupt traffic for one or two years and have a devastating effect on downtown businesses,” said Charles Nelson, owner of Toque Blanche on Main Street, who knows that it's taken a lot for local business owners to come back after the recession. “Small business owners pay themselves last, after paying their vendors, their employees, the landlord and the government. For many proprietors a sales decrease of just 10 percent would mean that there would be nothing leftover with which to pay themselves. They would have to close up shop. Shutting down Main Street, or restricting its traffic flow could decrease business much more than 10 percent.”

When assessing options for the Main Street bridge project City Council is taking into consideration the following three main factors, said Mayor Kowalczyk:

(1) Public safety and the rate of deterioration of the current bridge, which scored 24/100 in a recent CalTrans survey (the average score for bridges in the state is 70/100)

(2) Economic impact to the community leading up to, during, and after the construction phases

(3) Federal standards for street/bridge projects and other requirements needed to qualify for grants

"There is a clear sense of urgency to remedy the deteriorating Main Street bridge situation,” said Kowalczyk. “I want to ensure that we fully understand the perspective of the community, particularly Main Street merchants, and the perspective of professional engineers before making a decision for how to best move forward."

In the meantime, local merchants are planning to attend the meeting to “urge the Council to explore every possible means of repairing the bridge without shutting down Main Street,” said Nelson. “While the replacement of the bridge would probably put many of us out of business, it would also have an effect on the whole community. Can you imagine the traffic jam on a sunny Saturday with the Farmers Market and all? It would make every weekend like Pumpkin Festival. How likely would you be to shop on Main Street if you had to battle traffic to get there?”

According to Zaballa House owner David Cresson, who administered a survey on the issue to local business owners, “the great majority of Main Street merchants report that the heavy construction and road closures of the primary access to Main Street from Highway 92 would result in a disastrous effect on their business,” he said.

The ongoing survey reveals that out of 35 merchants “none of them predict that the closing the Main Street Bridge will have ‘no effect” on their business,” said Cresson. Other findings in the survey include:

  • 2 who say the effect will be “minor.”
  • 14 who say it will be “serious.”
  • 19 (54 percent) who say it will have a “disastrous effect.”

“In general, it is apparent that the closer the merchant is to the southern end of the bridge the worse the impact will be," said Cresson. "And the more likely the businesses are to serve tourists, the greater the impact.”

Sheila Edwards-May owner of Tokenz says this situation is a “no-brainer.”

“Repair the existing bridge without doubt," she said. "Fix and maintain our historic bridge and spend the new bridge money to beautify Main Street and maintain our roads.”

Mayor Kowalczyk is not leaning in any one direction.  

“I need to see what the rest of the data says and what the full array of options are,” he said. “My responsibility is to make a decision based on the facts and data, to do everything within my abilities to do what's best for Half Moon Bay.”

He is expecting there to be a lot of emotion involved with the project because it's intensely personal for the community, there's a lot at stake for the merchants and then there are those who are very nostalgic for old Half Moon Bay and want to preserve the historic charm of the current Main Street bridge.

“I am extremely empathetic to our community and will strive to make patient, well thought out decisions that are in everyone's best interest,” said Kowalczyk.

The City will conduct one more public meeting on Feb. 13, from 8:30-10:30 a.m. at the City Operations Center to provide more additional information and seek public input regarding the Main Street Bridge project.

Are you going to the Main Street Bridge meeting? Where do you stand on the issue?


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Charles Nelson February 05, 2013 at 02:55 PM
The Bridge Workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, February 6th from 7 to 9 p.m., not tonight!
Joan S. Dentler February 05, 2013 at 03:30 PM
Thanks Charles for catching that. We are making the correction now!
Christa Bigue February 05, 2013 at 04:22 PM
Thanks Charles! By posting the article today, here's hoping for a good turnout at tomorrow's meeting.
George Muteff February 05, 2013 at 04:32 PM
As Charles has already noted, there is some confusion in the piece on date and time. I add this because looking at the City website calendar shows no evidence of a meeting at all, so anyone looking there will see nothing on it. What one sees when looking where we are suppose to look is tonight's regular City Council meeting and this Item is not on it. It might be a good idea if the City would demonstrate the meeting on their calendar. It might help inform and reduce any ambiguity if they did.
Joan S. Dentler February 05, 2013 at 05:27 PM
Thank you for your comment George. I spoke this morning with the HMB City Clerk Siobhan Smith, who confirmed that the event on Wednesday is a city-sponsored Community Meeting (not to be confused with a city council meeting). It's an opportunity for the city to share information on the project and listen to the public's concerns. The Community Meeting will be held Wed. Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. in the Department Operations Center 537 Kelly Ave. (For those who are unable to attend the Feb. 6 Community Meeting, a second one will be held on Feb. 13 at 8:30 a.m.)


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