Monday, March 10, 2008

Carp leaders hold off on bridge decision


For the past 50 years, the wooden footbridge over Carpinteria Creek has been a cherished community landmark.
City leaders reminisced about running across it as young children. Community members highlighted its renowned status as a bird watching sanctum. Staff pointed out its critical role in linking the Concha Loma and Old Town neighborhoods.
But after being rebuilt after sustaining significant damage in the 1969 floods, it has again fell into disrepair. The wooden piles driven into the creek bed are suffering from rot. Termites have eaten into many of the deck planks.

“It’s really not at a point of repair,” said Bret Foster, a civil engineer. “It’s at a point of replacement.”
After inspections in 2002 and 2005 revealed significant structural deficiencies, city staff set about the process of coming up with designs for a new span. Engineers and city planners examined truss, arch, cable-suspended and pile-supported bridge designs – taking into consideration their feasibility, cost and impact on the creek.
“This has been going on for many years now,” Carpinteria City Councilmember Brad Stein said.
After countless meetings of the Architectural Review Board and Planning Commission, leaders whittled down the options. Keeping the current design would impinge too much on the creek environment, staff said, while trusses would block views and a suspension bridge would require towers on each creek bank at an estimated height of 30 feet.
Thus emerged the 165-foot arch bridge option up for discussion at Monday's council meeting. As proposed, the design calls for steel arches 12 inches in diameter rising to a height of 22.5 feet in the center of the span. Cables would connect to steel girders under the six-foot wide hardwood deck.
Acting city engineer Tom Evans described the steel proposed for the project as durable and low-maintenance – similar to his characterization of the wood decking as so hard he can’t imagine it being attacked by termites.
As part of the project, overhead utility lines would be relocated to the bridge, along with a water main that currently runs under the creek. Five native trees, including willows and sycamores, would have to be removed and replaced with other vegetation.
City staff came forward with the $1.2 million proposal as the most feasible design for a free-span bridge across the creek.
Many in the audience disagreed, calling on the council to reject the arch design as incompatible with the small-town character of Carpinteria and to repair the bridge in its current form instead. One speaker presented a petition signed by more than 900 residents opposed to the arch bridge concept.
“People around town are calling the arch bridge the one-million-dollar mistake,” said Carpinteria resident Duffy Hecht. “…Does the City Council really want to take one million of the taxpayers’ dollars and spend it on a bridge the city doesn’t want?”
Hecht presented two alternatives that he said had not been appropriately considered by the city. One called for wrapping the current pilings with protective sheeting similar to that used on Stearns Wharf.
The other suggested further examination of the truss bridge option. Hecht said he conducted research and found a firm in Ojai that quoted a price of $386,000 for a truss design with reduced visual impacts.
“They are both good options and I think they should be considered,” he said.
But Foster, hired by the city to help design the proposal, said wrapping the piles is not possible due to their poor internal integrity.
“They’ve served their useful life,” he said.
As far as the truss option, he said engineering issues coupled with disability access requirements and flood clearances make designing such a bridge that would not significantly impinge on views a tricky process.
Councilmember Al Clark said the suggestions brought forward by Hecht deserved further study.
“We have the largest petition ever circulated in Carpinteria on this project,” he said. “There’s obviously a lot of public sentiment.”
Other city leaders, however, cautioned against holding up a process that has already stretched on for years.
“I don’t want to start over engineering this after already spending so much money,” Mayor Michael Ledbetter said.
Ultimately, the council decided to continue the discussion to their April 14 meeting, allowing engineers to reexamine the truss design and come back with a clearer picture of that option.
“I’m very attached to the old footbridge and I wish it could stay forever,” said Vice Mayor Gregg Carty, describing how he used to ride his bike over the bridge to school from his Concha Loma home as a child. But, he said, public safety and long-term considerations also have to be taken into account.
“My number one goal as a councilman is to do what’s best for the community,” he said, “and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

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