Earthquake wary reader questions Murray Street Bridge repair delays

Dear Street Smarts, Q: Since there are so many earthquakes in the news, could you find out why the required seismic retrofit of the Murray Street Bridge is delayed until next year? The plans were completed several years ago and a Feb. 28, 2009 Sentinel article went into great deal about the retrofit being scheduled for early 2010. But your recent column, on Jan. 10, 2010, said only ‘patches’ were to be done this year. In addition to the devastation in Haiti, there's been a disaster declaration from quakes in Humboldt County. Could this delay turn out to be ‘penny wise and pound foolish’ if the fault lines we share with northern California get active? Thanks. Patricia Matejcek, via email A: The patch work being done to the bridge’s deck is neither “penny wise nor pound foolish” but is necessary to keep the deck from further degradation, which would make it unsafe for use by drivers and bicyclists, said Chris Schneiter, civil engineer within the city’s Public Works Department. “I believe it’s wise for us to do something now, rather than be considered foolish later,” he said. While the initial seismic design was partially completed some time ago, seismic standards, environmental review requirements and funding have slowed the process, said Schneiter. As we speak, the design is being updated to current standards. “This should not change the original design elements as approved by City Council,” he said. As for the delay related to the environmental review process, Schneiter said that the city’s project team is required to study and consider how the construction of the bridge will have an effect on salmon, seals, bats, and other critters living in the area. “While this has been completed in draft form, it requires review and approval by the appropriate state and federal agencies before it can be released,” he said. Because the proposed project aims to minimize the impact on these species, it will take longer and be more expensive to construct, he said. And in regard to the funding delay, the state dropped its contribution to this and other seismic projects, Schneiter said. The cut amounted to more than $1 million the city did not have, he said. “Thankfully, the voters approved Proposition 1B, which did allocate state money for seismic retrofits,” he said. “How the current bond market and state budget crisis affects the bridge funding is unknown at this time.” In the meantime, the city will continue to move forward on this last seismic retrofit project and hopes to be under construction in about a year, “assuming these project steps get resolved in a timely manner,” Schneiter said. “I want to be optimistic about the schedule; however, our experience has been otherwise,” he said.
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