City introduces project options to improve bridge’s safety
While the Mission Canyon Road bridge over Mission Creek is a historic and iconic landmark of Santa Barbara, the stone bridge has provided some challenges over time for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.
Constructed in the late 1800s, the bridge’s lifespan is declining, along with its structural ratings, including a hole in the concrete under the bridge.
The structural supports on the attached walkway are also deteriorating and rusting.
The bridge lacks earthquake retrofitting, poses poor sight lines for drivers and existing collision patterns, has insufficient pedestrian walkways, crosswalks and bike lanes, and constricts water flow under the bridge during large storms.
The city of Santa Barbara conducted studies of this bridge to determine ways to improve structural integrity, prepare for earthquakes and improve overall safety.
This past Wednesday, city officials presented their study’s findings, including three options for the bridge and three options for the roadway that can be mixed and matched. Now, the city and involved community members are seeking public input on the options.
Each option lists its pros and cons regarding historic preservation, safety features and environmental considerations.
For the bridge, Option 1 retains the existing stone bridge and would reinforce the bridge by removing a portion of the dirt that currently fills the arch; Option 2 creates a two-arch bridge to handle water flow in large storms; and Option 3 creates a wider, 50-foot arch bridge reusing existing stones and the capstone.
Each of the bridge options can be matched with any of the roadway options.
For the roadway, Option A widens the roadway and bridge equally on both sides to increase driver sight distance, add five-foot bike lanes and six-foot pathways on both sides.
Option B widens the roadway, rehabilitates or replaces the bridge to increase driver sight distance, adds five-foot bike lanes and a partial six-foot pedestrian. In addition, a 10-foot wide pedestrian bridge would be added downstream, but it would not be eligible for federal funding.
Finally, Option C would rehabilitate or replace the bridge along with a six-foot path on the upstream side of the road, add five-foot bike lanes and conduct minor roadway improvements. It would not be eligible for federal funding because it doesn’t address roadway deficiencies north and south of the bridge.
“The hard part about this one is that there isn’t one item that goes to the top,” Kirsten Ayars, who’s in charge of community outreach for the project study, told the News-Press. “These are all important items. Public safety is very important when you’re talking about a road… Utilities (are important) because when these collisions occur, it knocks out power to the area and cuts off access to the road.
“They’re all big deals.”
She said that taking into account access to the road for an evacuation route, the bridge serving as a constriction point for creeks, earthquake safety standards and historic resources is all crucial in the public comment period.
“There are plenty of options to mix and match to meet safety and historic resources, combined with how we can improve the area and keep the character of the neighborhood,” Ms. Ayars said. “We think we can do it, and we want people’s feedback and what they think.”
There have been a number of crashes and collissions on the bridge, according to Rob Dayton, the city’s transportation planning and parking manager.
“As you’re coming straight down Mission Canyon and it turns left, people hit that wall pretty often,” he told the News-Press. “They also hit the bridge rails.”
He said that the common themes residents have been asking about have been about the bridge’s historic structure and style. Option 3 for the bridge, which creates a 50-foot arch, could jeopardize listing on the National Register of Historic Places and City Landmark status.
“A lot of people were focused on that issue,” Mr. Dayton said. “This is a very special place. We’ve got to get this right and we all have to be comfortable with the data and the analysis to find a clear path forward for the community and decision makers.”
Nathan Hayden rents a home bordering the creek and the bridge on its west side, right across from Rocky Nook Park. He and his wife have been renting it for eight years, and they’ve kept up closely with the development of the soon-to-be construction project.
He told the News-Press that his preferred option for the bridge is Option 3, the 50-foot arch.
“To us, that one looks like the one that’s the least obstructive to the creek. The big problem is if there’s anything obstructing the creek and there’s a huge flood and it backs up, it’ll come over through the park and basically run right through our property,” Mr. Hayden said.
“That seems like one that was the most sound as far as flood protection, and as far as environmental protection as well.”
The Haydens have a 2-year-old daughter, so Mr. Hayden said he cares more about the safety of it and the sight lines for driving.
“It’d be nice to be able to cross the street without having to worry about traffic as much,” he said. “The 50-foot arch one is the least historically accurate representation, which to me is less important than the safety as far as sight lines, flooding and environmental repercussions.”
By Mr. Hayden’s count in his eight years of living in the area, he said there’s been 14 cars that have hit the bridge wall or telephone pole in front of their home. He said, from what he can remember, four of those cars smashed into the wall hard enough that the city had to reconstruct parts of the wall.
“The argument of authenticity already goes out the window just because four major parts of that wall have already been rebuilt,” he said. “Pretty much every time it rains, people smash into the wall, which has protected them from going into our kitchen.”
He added that he understands the heart of those who want to keep it as close to how it was in 1890, but “the reality of the situation is the bridge is super heavily trafficked now.”
Fred Sweeney is the president and a cofounder of the Mission Heritage Trails Association. He’s been involved with this effort for a decade, walking many community members and city officials around the area.
“We’re going to come up with a good solution,” Mr. Sweeney told the News-Press. “This process is really going to get us to a point where we’re going to have a way to make everybody able to go through that corridor safely after all these years and all this work.
“A lot of our rich history is there.”
More information on the bridge studies is available at missioncanyonbridge.com. Comments can also be submitted on the website.