Mission Creek Bridge, 51C-51 is one of the best engineered and masterfully built bridges ever.
Save it; respect it; learn from it.
Mission Creek Bridge, 51C-51, unites the 500 block of east Los Olivos Street with the 600 block of Mission Canyon Road. This sandstone bridge is one of the best designed, best engineered and most masterfully built bridges anywhere. It is part of the most intact historic and scenic area of Santa Barbara.
Why would any engineer, architect, transportation department or elected body want to destroy this bridge and the historic cultural landscape that goes with it? Yet that is what the misleadingly named, anonymous to the public, Mission Canyon Bridge Studies Team, is proposing.
The team’s minimalist website is a deceptive, public relations piece filled with unsubstantiated scare tactics, pretty renderings that do not show the ecological destruction of Mission Creek, nor mention the unethical taking of thousands of feet of Rocky Nook County Park land that has an explicit deed restriction for park use only.
Nor does the team indicate that the entire corridor already meets Vision Zero criteria. Nor does the team tell you what every traffic engineer knows: A wider bridge, broader vistas and broader curves create faster speeds, thereby destroying the current Vision Zero corridor and instead increasing the potential for severe injuries or fatalities.
The team tries to seduce you by promising to put a few telephone poles underground and covering an easily screened sewer pipe. The likelihood of ugly guardrails being installed that now don’t exist is not mentioned.
Mission Creek Bridge, a city historic landmark, is so valued statewide and nationally that it is on the Caltrans Historic Bridge Inventory. It and its attached walls are on the California State Historic Resources Inventory, and the bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. If the walls’ private owners had not objected, this exquisite bridge and walls would actually now be on the National Register.
Federal bridge inspections are done every two years, with the last one dated for April 2019. The results are always that this bridge is structurally sound and may remain in place as is without restrictions.
Water adequacy is very good, with an 8 out of the highest possible score of 9.
Earthquakes have not even cracked the bridge.
Nevertheless, the team’s scare tactics use unproven natural disasters as reasons to demolish this very strong bridge. For years inspection reports have recommended minor maintenance and repairs.
The Santa Barbara Department of Transportation, in October 2019, with method and design approved by the city historian, replaced two rusted supports under the pedestrian walkway. The recommendation to grind and re-asphalt the vehicle lanes was also done.
What remains to be done at little expense is repair the hole in the concrete and scour under the bridge. The team misleadingly indicates this hole is a reason to replace the bridge. Not true. The inspection report gives this minor “channel and channel protection” problem a 6 out of 9 rating. Repair is what is recommended!
There is no reason to accept any of the bridge team’s proposals. They all destroy lots and don’t fix the problems the community wanted fixed such as installing crosswalks, trail maintenance, fixing the merger of Alameda Padre Serra and east Los Olivos Street, where fender benders occur, and slowing down southbound traffic on Mission Canyon Road so the picket wall and electrical poles are not hit by speeding drivers. These fixes cost almost nothing.
The removal and replacement of the historic bridge, which no community member, not even members of the Mission Heritage Trail Association, wanted touched when surveyed in 2014, is a boondoggle that will cost taxpayers a minimum of $11.4 million for no safety benefit.
People all over the country and world are realizing that historic stone bridges and historic roads are part of a valued heritage that they want preserved. Stone bridges that are more than a thousand years old are still in use and repaired without harming historic integrity.
Paul Daniel Marriott of the National Trust for Historic Preservation has written “Saving Historic Roads: Design and Policy Guidelines” for when our leaders put preservation and sustainability over destruction and wastefulness.
As DOT rules change, older bridges and roads become labeled “functionally obsolete.” These bridges and roads are still safe.
Mission Creek Bridge meets city criteria with 10-foot lanes and 5-foot wide shoulders.
Federal bridge funds may not be used if a bridge is not the cause of slow down in traffic speeds. This bridge does not cause slow downs.
The road is designed for a maximum 25 mph from the Mission to above 700 Mission Canyon Road. What is needed is for the DOT to find areas of flexibility so this corridor can be maintained and repaired when and where needed without triggering demands that compromise the integrity of historic, ecological or scenic resources.
The author lives in Santa Barbara.