Arroyo Grande Village's Bridge Street bridge garners support

Some say the ‘functionally obsolete’ bridge is a landmark worth repairing and preserving

clambert@thetribunenews.comFebruary 18, 2014 

A  few Arroyo Grande residents are circulating a petition urging the city to rehabilitate — not replace — an old, landmark bridge in the Village.

Located on Bridge Street between East Branch and Nelson streets, the bridge boasts green paint, brightly colored flowers and a wooden pedestrian walkway. But its pleasing aesthetics mask deeper issues.

At only 24 feet wide, the bridge is too narrow and is “functionally obsolete,” according to slides presented during a community meeting in January.

In addition, with a 3-ton load limit (that’s 6,000 pounds, the approximate weight of a Hummer H2 without passengers or cargo), seismic deficiencies, and possible problems with the quality of the concrete, the bridge is structurally deficient.

It needs to be replaced, retrofitted or — if nothing is done — closed, according to city officials.

“It doesn’t mean it’s going to be closed tomorrow, but we absolutely need to decide what to do for the future,” said Teresa McClish, Arroyo Grande’s community development director.

This spring, the Arroyo Grande City Council will mull several options: replace the bridge with a modern structure, salvage and relocate the truss on a new bridge, replace the bridge with a replica, retrofit the existing bridge, or do nothing.

However, a group of residents have put together a petition and are collecting signatures to urge the council to rehabilitate the existing bridge. Petitions can be found at various stores and restaurants in the Village.

“If you build a new bridge and stick the truss back on top, it’s not going to look like an old bridge,” said Shirley Gibson, who has served on the city’s historical resources committee and is one of several members of the Friends of the Bridge Street Bridge group. “You start chipping away at the history, and what do you have left?”

The bridge, with a steel Pratt truss spanning 100 feet, was built in 1908 and is eligible for listing on the federal National Register of Historic Places.

It was designed by Austin F. Parsons, a longtime San Luis Obispo County resident and county surveyor. It was originally built to withstand 10 tons but has weakened over the years, according to a Telegram-Tribune story published in April 1989.

An additional span was built after flood damage in 1914. In 1989, after the bridge was found to be deficient because of its width and weight limit, the City Council decided to strengthen it with a supplemental truss rather than replace it.

The bridge now carries about 3,300 vehicles daily, as well as numerous pedestrians.

Currently, a group of stakeholders is meeting to develop a recommendation for the City Council. Stakeholders include representatives from the city’s Planning Commission, Architectural Review Committee and Historical Resources Committee, as well as the Village Improvement Association and the Arroyo Grande & Grover Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Chuck Fellows, a former councilman who now sits on the Architectural Review Committee, also favors rehabilitating the bridge and suggested that it be made one-way to retain the narrow width.

However, he noted, “I think there’s going to need to be some compromise in order to save it.”

Replacing the bridge with a conventional structure would be the least expensive and quickest solution; however, doing so would not preserve the same historical feel.

“There is certainly a desire to keep it more authentic to what the original bridge was, even if you choose a replacement option,” McClish said.

City officials hope to use funds from the federal highway bridge program, but they’re not sure whether the money would stretch to cover more expensive options. Cost estimates were not available.

After the City Council chooses an option, then environmental studies and design work could begin. It’s unlikely that construction would start before summer 2015.

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