September 4, 2018 by: Gabi
Preserving the Historic Albion River Bridge
Did you know that the Albion River Bridge is the last standing wooden bridge on Highway 1? Although it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in July 2017, CalTrans has plans to replace the current iconic wooden bridge with a much larger and less scenic concrete bridge. The Albion River Inn and Albion locals would like to save the bridge as it has become a celebrated part of the village and the coastal landscape. (video posted by Albion Bridge Stewards)
Caltrans will submit their plans for the new bridge to the California Coastal Commission and we'll be there to present our case for the preservation of the existing Historic bridge. In the event the Caltrans plans are denied, the bridge will continue to be maintained by Caltrans.
Guests who have stayed at the Albion River Inn know how beautiful the bridge is. Not only that, but it marks a "moment in time" because it was built out of wood during WWII when all steel was being used for the efforts overseas. (photo credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times)
Facts and Figures
- Opened for traffic: 1944
- Designated a state and national historic landmark: 2017
- Opened for traffic: 1944
- Length: 969 feet
- Length: 969 feet
- Width: 26 feet
- Height above river level: 150 feet
Width of proposed replacement bridge: 55 feet Original cost: $370,000
Price of replacement bridge: roughly $91 million (Caltrans 2013 estimate)
In the above photos you can see the two versions that Caltrans created mock ups of (photo credit - CalTrans)
The beautiful Albion River Bridge is the last remaining wooden trestle highway bridge on the California coast, and possibly in the United States. ( Photo Credit Rita Crane Photography)
The bridge was built during World War II. Steel, concrete, and redwood were reserved for the war effort, so the bridge was constructed primarily of pressure-treated Douglas fir timber. Concrete was limited to foundations, abutments, and two of the thirteen "bents”— the large towers that make up most of the bridge’s substructure. The portion of the bridge that crosses the Albion River is a steel railroad span that was refurbished in San Francisco. In 2017, the bridge’s historical significance was recognized on both the state and federal levels. The bridge was placed in The California Register of Historical Resources and in The National Register of Historic Places.
There are economic, environmental, and cultural reasons to preserve this bridge. A new bridge would be extremely expensive and involve significant disruption to the Albion River watershed, the Albion Flats Campground (one of the few affordable tourist lodgings on the coast), and other local businesses.
What’s more, the tourism industry on our coast is built on a foundation of preservation: of the environment, the historic Mendocino village, the Skunk Train, and the Point Cabrillo Light Station, to name only a few examples. There’s a genuine economic advantage to preserving our historic structures. (Photo Credit: Rita Crane Photography)
We owe it to our history, to our economy, to our environment, to California taxpayers, and to future generations to preserve the Albion River Bridge. (Photo Credit FotoMendo)
Questions and Answers
Is the bridge safe?
Absolutely, if the bridge was unsafe, Caltrans would be required to close it immediately. Isn’t the bridge “functionally obsolete?” Caltrans describes the bridge as “functionally obsolete”- which simply means that the bridge doesn’t meet today’s design standards for shoulder width and pedestrian and bicycle lanes. In reality, there are tens of thousands of functionally obsolete bridges in the country, including the Golden Gate Bridge and most Highway 1 bridges. Yet these bridges are functional and safe, and there is no legal requirement to replace them.
The Bixby Creek Bridge on Highway 1 in Big Sur is also a registered historic landmark. It, too, is “functionally obsolete,” and in the 1990s, Caltrans spent more than S20 million to retrofit and preserve the bridge. (photo credit: Photoserge)
Could it withstand a tsunami or earthquake?
Caltrans also describes the Albion River Bridge as being “structurally deficient.” One justification for this is that a “1000-year tsunami” might damage the bridge. Even in this highly unlikely case, Caltrans states that the bridge would likely survive, and any damage would occur from debris striking the bridge when the waters recede. However, there’s almost no development east of the bridge. Thus, there would be minimal debris in a tsunami outflow - in stark contrast to areas such as Fukashima, Japan.
As for an earthquake, in 2016, Caltrans performed a seismic retrofit to strengthen the steel portion of the bridge, which was the most seismically vulnerable component.
Lastly, any discussion of environmental hazards must also take into account the environmental impact of a proposed new bridge: not only the disposal of the historic bridge, but the impact of construction and geotechnical investigations on the Albion River, a federally designated wild and scenic waterway.
Is there room for pedestrians and cyclists?
There are several ways to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle traffic across the Albion River, and they can be added for a fraction of the cost of building a new bridge. “It is called a clip-on”.
Isn’t the bridge expensive to maintain? (photo credit FotoMendo)
The bridge has annual maintenance costs of about $150, 000.00 . That is only a fraction of the cost of building a new bridge and demolishing the historic one.
Add to this the other advantages of preserving a historic structure: the economic benefits to tourism and local businesses, and the intangible but very real benefits to the fabric of a community'.
Isn’t it cheaper to just build a new bridge? (photo credit FotoMendo)
No. In 2013, Caltrans estimated a new bridge would cost nearly $91 million. It’s easy to imagine the expense for a new bridge being far more, considering that construction wouldn’t begin for several more years, and that cost-overruns are common.
If you have a minute and want to ensure that the Albion River Bridge is not torn down, please contact Tamara.Gedik@coastal.ca.gov and write a brief letter in support of preserving the bridge.
Thank you for your interest in the beautiful Mendocino Coast, our history and future.
Stay tuned for updates on future developments regarding the Albion River Bridge!
~The Albion River Inn