Half Moon Bay residents push for federal funding for historic bridge preservation 

click to enlarge Main Street Bridge
  • Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • The Main Street Bridge, built in 1900, has been tagged for replacement, but some Half Moon Bay residents are hoping federal funds can improve the bridge without destroying it.
Some Half Moon Bay residents are asking the city to make a special request to federal highway officials, which they say would prevent a historic bridge from being torn down by instead helping to secure funding for its restoration.

The aging Main Street Bridge has served as a gateway between state Route 92 and downtown Half Moon Bay since it was constructed in 1900. The City Council first set out to replace the deteriorating structure in 2010 after a Caltrans assessment yielded a sufficiency rating of just 24 out of 100.

But some have objected to the replacement for issues ranging from landmark preservation and environmental concerns to backlash from local businesses over construction impacts. Others have argued that the narrow and slightly curved bridge — two traits Caltrans takes issue with — actually increases safety in a busy part of town by slowing the flow of traffic.

“I don’t know of anyone that’s not suggesting that we have to do something with the bridge,” said David Eblovi, a resident who recently applied to have the bridge added to the National Register of Historic Places. “We’re working very hard to propose an alternative that definitively takes care of the bridge.”

In February, the bridge’s nomination to the national register was accepted. A measure called the Main Street Bridge Preservation Act, which would prohibit the city from demolishing or enlarging the bridge, also recently made it onto the June ballot.

But the viability of a restoration alternative depends largely on the availability of federal highway funds, which are only guaranteed for projects, such as a total replacement, that would receive a Caltrans sufficiency rating of 80 or higher.

Officials note that repairs to fix only structural problems, such as widening the roadway and smoothing the curve to improve sight lines, would likely fall short of that benchmark because they would not completely alter the shape and character of the landmark.

Preservationists argue, however, that exceptions to the funding rule can be made for historic structures, as long as the city takes the initiative to request it.

“The Federal Highway Administration allows flexibility in design standards for existing historic structures, such as bridges,” said Lennie Roberts, of the Committee for Green Foothills, at a recent public-scoping meeting for the project. “If there is a feasible and prudent alternative to destroying a historic structure, that alternative must be chosen.”

According to the city’s project manager, Rob Kalkbrenner, a long-awaited forensic analysis of the existing structure will be conducted in coming months. City leaders will decide whether or not to pursue a project exemption based on feedback from the public and several other factors.

“The city assumes all risk on that bridge for accidents. If we apply for the exemption and don’t correct those sights and there is an accident, there is a liability for that,” Kalkbrenner said. “If there are any other issues, structural or otherwise, we’d be barred from getting federal funding for another 10 years,” Kalkbrenner added.

According to Eblovi, more than 2,700 people signed a recent preservationist petition, signaling there could be strong support for a June “save the bridge” ballot initiative.

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S. Parker Yesko

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