My reasons for asking Caltrans to redo bridge study

06/22/2017

Until Thursday’s community meeting on the Green Bridge, I had assumed, for seismic and structural reasons, that the bridge needed to be replaced. I had relied on my neighbors and friends of Mary Whitney’s animal hospital to advocate for the least disruptive solution. Yet after listening to community comments and questions, and to Caltrans’s presentation and answers, I was struck by both the cookie-cutter culture of the seemingly competent and well-meaning Caltrans team and the inventive, practical examination of the project by our small community, with its unusual wealth of expertise and not-to-be-intimidated spirit. 

For other late-comers to the debate who have not had the time to read the Light’s articles, opinion pieces and letters on the issue, these are the points that convinced me to join in demanding that Caltrans pursue either the no-action or a retrofit alternative.

First, seismic safety. The bridge is only 152 feet long. Warning lights could be installed on either side of the bridge and hooked into the California Earthquake Shake Alert system now in final testing. That notice would be sufficient to stop traffic at the bridge entrance and for traffic on the bridge to clear. See Robert Johnston’s June 15 letter on it.

Second, traffic safety. Caltrans staff say wider lanes and the addition of bicycle lanes will make the crossing safer. In a poll of the audience, which included several senior members of the community, no one could recall there ever having been an accident on the bridge. In addition, the narrow bridge serves as a pinch point that causes drivers to slow down as they enter town, making the streets beyond the bridge safer, including the entrance to Dr. Whitney’s clinic. For those heading south, the narrow bridge slows drivers down so that other drivers, including myself, with my truck and horse trailer, can safely make the turn into town from Sir Francis Drake. 

Third, structural integrity. Caltrans staff discussed the deteriorated condition of the bridge’s structural members. Despite this concern, Caltrans has never posted a load limit for the bridge. According to the environmental impact statement, the existing bridge was designed to carry 15-ton trucks, compared to the present-day 36-ton trucks. “Heavy loads can add strain and advance the structural weakening of the existing bridge,” it states. Rerouting heavy trucks through Olema, the proposed detour route, could solve this problem.

Fourth, retrofit options. On Thursday, staff discussed one method of retrofitting the bridge—a method that would not reduce the time of the closure or reduce the impact on the animal clinic. Yet structural engineer Alistair Lizaranzu, who has worked on Caltrans bridge retrofit projects, volunteered that there are a number of less obtrusive ways to retrofit the structure, including by using a base isolation system. If structural integrity is a serious issue that cannot be solved by establishing load limits, we must demand that Caltrans consider multiple methods of retrofitting the bridge.

The cookie-cutter decision that the Green Bridge must be replaced, regardless of the on-the-ground context, was evident in the argument that a new bridge, the base of which is no higher than the base of the existing bridge, will last 100 years. This claim ignores what we already know from experience and from the county’s draft C-SMART study, which includes the Green Bridge in its description of “the most [near-term] vulnerable coastal Marin assets.” If a new bridge will be unusable in 100 years, a retrofit with a useful life of 50 years is an appropriate goal.

Another example of Caltrans’s cookie-cutter environmental analysis is the finding that the no-build alternative “could have adverse effects to community character and cohesiveness” should the bridge fail, while the new bridge alternatives would “enhance community cohesion.” This malarkey must have been written by someone who has never lived in a rural community.

There are more examples of Caltrans’s failure to accurately assess the appropriateness of the alternatives offered in the draft E.I.R., but June 24 is the deadline for submitting comments. I hope other Light readers will join me in urging Caltrans to halt the environmental review process and start over, this time engaging in a true and open collaboration with the community to identify actual risks and the many alternatives available for reducing those risks. 

 

Judy Teichman, a Point Reyes Station resident, crosses the Green Bridge several times a week pulling a three-horse trailer with what she considers “precious cargo.”