Green Bridge replacement proposal by Caltrans

 

Recommendations from a transportation consultant regarding the Caltrans plans for replacing the Green Bridge. Comment period ends April 20.

 

After Thursday night’s gathering with Caltrans, I spoke at length with my daughter about the event. She is an independent transportation consultant in the Bay Area, and has worked on numerous projects dealing with Caltrans and/or their operations. She understands how they think and operate, and their intentions—things all of us should know about the forthcoming bridge replacement.

 

This bridge IS going to be replaced. That is the primary thing to understand. As it stands now, it is seismically unsafe. If the bridge was damaged, as in an earthquake, our communities would be cut off from each other; perhaps even for an extended period of time.

 

We now have an opportunity to influence Caltrans’ choice of bridge design. The comment period ends on April 20th , giving us time work on getting a new bridge that we like.

 

This article is not meant to be an all-inclusive discussion of the bridge replacement, but simply to supply information. Use it effectively to write your comments to Caltrans—hopefully they will allow our community to end up with a bridge that we can all be proud of.

 

A year ago Caltrans got soundly criticized for their lack of progress in creating a viable, vibrant transportation system throughout California.  Since then, Caltrans has been working to re-organize so that staff can focus on building a sustainable, multi-modal transportation system. They recently developed a new mission: vision and goals for the agency.  It is important for us to understand the Caltrans project, then relay our concerns and comments, using the language that they are comfortable with. These are now mandates from HQ, which can be found at www.dot.ca.gov/hq/paffairs/about/mission.htm

 

To help our community get organized, I spoke with my daughter, and she brought-up some important points. Thursday night we received a handout called “the Lagunitas Creek Bridge Project Scoping Meeting.”  My daughter pointed out the “Project Purpose and Need” (PPN) section states an important fact—Caltrans is already in stage two of the bridge building process. This PPN drives the decision of which bridge design is settled on. In this case, the decision is the building of a “seismically safe crossing on SR-1 over Lagunitas Creek” and nothing more.  They do not have to make it pretty or efficient, etc. Just seismically safe.

 

The first goal with our comments is to persuade Caltrans to edit the PPN if possible. They should continue the words of the above quoted excerpt, adding on another sentence, such as, “to provide a safe way for tourists and local residents to access the communities on either side of the bridge while reducing pollution and enhancing the local economies.”  A second sentence could be added, addressing the concerns of tourists using the Point Reyes National Seashore, or a sentence about the locals ability to access our schools and medical facilities. Or one about protecting the environment. Keep your comments short and concise. As we comment on each design, or the design we prefer, we can then refer back to the wording in Mission Statement to emphasize these points. Hopefully this will sway them toward our preferred bridge design.

 

The Caltrans web page for the Lagunitas Creek Bridge project can be found at the link below.  On the right side of the page are 3 links to further documents including the 14 posters we saw at Thursday night’s Caltrans meeting. It is important to be familiarize yourself with the contents of the second and third links.   http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist4/lagunitascreekbridge/

 

 

The bridge design options offered to us seem to be taken from Engineering 101 where the teacher says the assignment is to design a bridge. You basically have 4 options, and they have given us one of each: steel truss, overhead lateral bracing, precast concrete, and suspension bridge.  Also, road widths, shoulder widths and sidewalk widths are determined by Caltrans having successfully used these widths, designs, etc. in the past to build a safe bridge.  And in the past their attitude has been, “Why change it if it worked before?”  My daughter said it might take a lot to change this part of the process—the dimensions of the bridge features.  If someone cares about the final size of the bridge, one approach would be research and report on other bridges throughout California built by Caltrans that deviated from the norm and did not increase risk to passengers and pedestrians.

 

It may help to point out to Caltrans some things they may not understand about our bridge and our communities and needs, simply because we are in a rural, agricultural area that is unfamiliar to them. Letting them know, for instance, that Option 2 with overhead lateral bracing and a height limitation will be unfeasible because of tall hay trucks and livestock trucks. It may impinge on the movement of large construction vehicles needed if we have another large mud slide or wild fire. This is something they may not have thought of, and will more strongly influence their decision against this choice of design.

 

Also each of the 4 designs has three options regarding the sidewalks:  cantilevered, adjacent to the street bed, and adjacent to the street bed with a guardrail.  Using wording from their mission statement and our edited PPN we can explain why we prefer one form of sidewalk to another, so that no matter which bridge design they choose, at least we had a say in which sidewalk design we end up with.

 

I found an interesting point about design #3, the pre-cast concrete girder: in parts of Caltrans District 7 likeMonterey County, maintenance workers now alter the color of the concrete and paint on their bridges to blend with the surroundings, making it appear like it had been there for quite a while. Here is a comment we can make to influence the final design, should they end up choosing it.

 

Another place we can influence the design process is with the list of agencies and stakeholders Caltrans plans to work with. There is no mention of the Inverness Association, Pt. Reyes Village Association or the West Marin Chamber of Commerce, or of local residents, tourists and others I have not mentioned.  Again, Caltrans is not familiar with our community, so these omissions need to be pointed out in our comments, encouraging them to confer with the list above for input in the environmental and design phases.

How about Caltrans traffic counts? Are they aware that Labor Day weekend sees perhaps the largest increase in summer traffic for the sand castle building contest? Or that Western Weekend in June increases traffic diversions because of the parade?  Not to mention that the area is now a major destination for motorcyclists and bicycle riders every weekend. These groups need to be considered in any design choice.

 

Another area to influence Caltrans is the temporary bridge. It is probably not possible to build a two lane temporary bridge—one could then not get in and out of the Vet Clinic. In regards to this, we could ask for an option: if we find the existing timing is impeding traffic and increasing pollution, then change the timing of the traffic lights on the bridge. (refer to the rewritten PPN idea and to the Caltrans Mission Statement). We could do it seasonally with a different timing in the winter than the summer.

 

Also, we can comment on how Caltrans will leave the site upon completion of the bridge replacement.  For instance, environmentalists may wish to have the creek banks replanted with specific plants that will support and promote the salmon or frogs. Those who live directly south of the bridge may want hedges built on their property lines to help block the noise from the new wider roadbed. These are things to add to your comments.

 

Our overall goal is to make comments that will make the bridge and our community better. In writing your comments, focus on what is most important to you. Then add additional comments if you wish. You want to be very convincing about your choice so that Caltrans will want to choose it for the design.

 

Language in all of these cases is very important.  Avoiding negative words and phrases such as ‘lack of traffic’ and ‘congestion’ and instead using ‘mobility’ and ‘access’ can influence Caltrans in your direction.  Our word choices should be around cultivating what we want, rather than focusing on what we want to avoid.

 

Caltrans is only obligated to notify residences and business within a very small area surrounding both sides of the bridge about the coming construction. Some locals, and of course all our tourists, will be completely unaware of this upcoming project. It behooves us to do what we can to let the uninformed population know about this project. We encourage the coming together as a community to brainstorm ways to alleviate some of the traffic congestion and disturbances this construction project will cause. We need to minimize these disruptions as much as possible. Fortunately, this do not have to be decided by April 20th.  Actual construction on the bridge is not anticipated until 2019.  However it will last 2-3 years, with the first stage being the construction of the temporary bridge, so at least that stage will not disrupt us too much.

 

We can only influence and not make the final choice for Caltrans. We will each have to find a way, personally, to be okay with every one of the four designs. Something may arise in the environmental impact report phase or permitting phase that would require that only one of the four is feasible to build. We will have to accept that. It is important to open our minds to the fact that any option could be chosen. For that process I find it helpful to focus my thoughts around this bridge replacement not as replacing a steel structure, but as maintaining a valuable community connection.

 

Comments can be sent by email by April 20th toLagunitas_bridge@dot.ca.gov

 

Letters can be sent by April 20th to:    California Department of Transportation

District 4 Office of Environmental Analysis

Attn:  Oliver Iberien

P O Box 23660

Oakland, CA 94623

 

—————

Cathleen Dorinson

Pt Reyes Station

663-8426

 

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