Replacement plan for historic Half Moon Bay bridge faces opposition 

Defenders of a small and historic bridge in Half Moon Bay are bracing for a big fight with city government over its planned replacement.

The Main Street Bridge connects downtown Half Moon Bay with state Highway 92, and a plaque on one side notes that it was the first concrete bridge erected in San Mateo County, circa 1900. It also used surplus reinforced steel from the California Street cable car line in San Francisco.

Opposition to the replacement plan involves the historic nature of the bridge, but nearby business owners also are concerned with impacts on their bottom lines.

In September, the City Council rejected six proposals to repair and restore the bridge, instead voting 4-1 to demolish it and build a new structure. The project is expected to take place over a single dry season, about six months, and the 60-foot bridge spanning Pilarcitos Creek will be completely closed to traffic during construction.

“We will see somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of our business go away during that time. ... That will be painful,” said Mike Harding, owner of Oddyssea, a science and nature shop on Main Street.

Harding worries that some of his neighbors, mostly mom-and-pop shops already struggling in difficult economic times, won’t be able to weather a sustained downturn in traffic.

“The construction may take six months, but it’ll take years for people to get over the notion that, ‘Oh, it’s hard to get into downtown Half Moon Bay,’” Harding said.

The bridge’s cracked and corroded foundation began to draw serious attention when Caltrans engineers gave it a rating of 24 out of 100 in a routine safety inspection, according to a city report. Additionally, the narrow bridge has no bike lane and is not wheelchair accessible.

“The purpose of this effort is to create a safe, accessible bridge to downtown — which is not the situation that exists today. Public safety is at the heart of the project,” said Ross Guehring, a city spokesman.

“The City Council is committed to engaging the downtown shop owners and dedicating resources to promote Main Street during the construction process,” he added.

But opponents of the replacement plan say all safety and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance issues could be addressed with basic maintenance that would enable the bridge to remain open to traffic, minimize disruption to surrounding businesses and the environment, and preserve the historic structure.

The city still has several hurdles to overcome before breaking ground, including a possible ballot measure to halt replacement in November.

On Feb. 7, the California Office of Historic Preservation is expected to vote on making the bridge a historic landmark.

“Because of its historic standing, the city has to show that there’s no reasonable alternative to destroying the bridge and I think that’s going to be very difficult to prove,” said Dave Cresson, president of the Half Moon Bay History Association and owner of a bed-and-breakfast on Main Street.

An environmental impact report will also need to address the project’s impact on the underlying creek bed and several endangered animal populations in the area, according to Lennie Roberts, a legislative advocate at the Committee for Green Foothills who is familiar with coastal land-use issues.

The replacement will cost roughly $6 million, while, by some estimates, restoration could be completed for $1.2 million. Repairs, however, would not be eligible for funding granted by the Federal Highway Bridge Program, which would cover 88 percent of expenses associated with the proposal selected in September.

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S. Parker Yesko

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