Bridge over troubled cities

Feb. 26, 2013

By Katy Grimes


Since 2007, the city of Sacramento has been threatening to build another major bridge over the Sacramento River between West Sacramento and Sacramento.

Our then-City Council and Mayor agreed with West Sacramento that a bridge over the Sacramento River connecting the two sister cities would be a great idea. I agree. Until the housing boom and bust, West Sacramento was building new homes at breakneck speed. As the city dramatically increased in size, the main artery streets became bottle necked with commuter traffic.

Last week, the city of Sacramento announced that the bridge plan was a done-deal. Boom. Just like that, and it’s done.

“While there had been a plan to conduct feasibility studies to consider seven other potential locations, local transportation planners had to move quickly to take advantage of a federal funding window that was about to close,” the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board said.

Five years ago when the bridge idea was first introduced, city planners told the neighborhood associations who opposed the location of the bridge not to worry because federal funding was at least 10 years away.

Five years later, here we are.

The first go-around

In 2007, when Sacramento officials tried to quickly approve the plan to connect the very busy streets of West Sacramento with Land Park, a south-of-downtown residential neighborhood of 6,000 homes, the estimate of 35,000 additional cars on Broadway, the major artery street shocked residents and small business owners.

Broadway is already a very busy street and was made even more so with Sacramento’s “beautification” attempts as well as the paraplegic sidewalk corners that now stick out into a lane of traffic and make it dangerous for pedestrians, wheelchair pedestrians, and cars alike.

In 2007, the Sacramento Bee wrote, “Planners instead agreed to explore the entire riverfront for what they say is a much-needed crossing.

The move came after neighborhood groups complained a Broadway bridge would flood residential streets with cars, and after two legislators sent a letter urging the city to study a bridge designed more for mass transit than cars. 

City officials acknowledged they had jumped the gun by focusing only on Broadway.

”There has been no analysis done to say Broadway makes the most sense vs. other locations,” then-Assistant City Manager Marty Hanneman said. “We also need to look at what type of bridge this should be — for cars, or for bike and pedestrians only, or streetcars some day.”

City officials had launched a $400,000 study, jointly financed by the city of West Sacramento, of a four-lane bridge connecting Broadway in Sacramento with South River Road in West Sacramento.”

In 2006, Sacramento spent $400,000 on a study to determine that West Sacramento needs a bridge connecting to Sacramento. But they explored no other option than to dump 35,000 additional cars each day onto a residential street.

The 2007 Bee story explained: “…city staffers will meet with counterparts in West Sacramento to discuss a new bridge study where everything is on the table. 

When asked, Hanneman said options might include looking at a bridge connecting Southport in West Sacramento with Interstate 5 and Sutterville Road in Land Park.

A bridge there has long been opposed, however, by many Land Park residents. Jim Randlett of the Land Park Community Association said his group believes that a bridge focused on car traffic is wrong there and anywhere along the river.

”People will just jump off freeway and use surface streets as an escape valve,” Randlett said.”

The City of Sacramento only came up with one other option, knowing that it was not feasible. Anyone living in or near downtown could tell you that. Sutterville Road is also a bottle necked street, and the other artery-street in Land Park. 

But the more ridiculous aspect of this is that the only argument that opponents of this bridge have come up with so far is that the bridge should be for pedestrians and bicycles.

“Two local legislators, Sen. Darrell Steinberg and Assemblyman Dave Jones, sent a letter asking the city to consider mass transit (read Light Rail, buses or street cars) options rather than focusing on a bridge mainly for cars,” The Bee reported. This is the brilliance Sacramento has historically gotten from our elected officials. And both Steinberg and Jones guys are former Sacramento City Council members. The planners are not dealing in the reality of actually moving traffic. They are stuck in you-should-take-public-transitmode or ride-a-bike mode. That’s nice. But it’s not realistic.

The solution is abundantly clear, but one city officials have thus far refused to even discuss – the existing Pioneer Bridge over the Sacramento River could have lanes added east and west, and the freeway access to and from West Sacramento could be widened to have 2-3 lanes coming off the freeway and getting on. Or, build the bridge over I-5 further South at Elk Grove Blvd, widen I-5 and direct the commuters into Sacramento via I-5. No one is even considering expanding an existing bridge. 

Any talk about building a brand new pedestrian and bicycle-only bridge is absurd and unaffordable. It is glaringly obvious that public officials are used to wasting taxpayer money.

In 2007, it was apparent Sacramento officials had already made up their minds on this issue.

“Their quick action means that Sacramento is likely to win approval for a much-needed replacement bridge for the century-old I Street span,” the Bee editorial board said last week. “It also puts the region in position to apply for the next round of federal funding for design and environmental work for the southern crossing, which will probably be at Broadway but not definitely. The design and environmental work will determine if Broadway is the best location. In fact, it will be the very feasibility study Broadway bridge skeptics say they were promised.”

Another expensive feasibility study?

“After extensive discussions with property owners and residents on both sides of the river, both cities have agreed that any bridge built will be neighborhood friendly,” the Bee said. “By that they mean that it will have a low profile, one easily integrated into the surrounding communities, and that it will accommodate not just cars, but pedestrians, bicycles and possibly trolley cars.”

The city already has plans for an expensive “mixed-use” development at west end of Broadway, with new housing, subsidized housing, and retail development, despite a massive outcry from the two neighborhoods bordering the area. “A new bridge could enhance that effort and help transform the moribund stretch of a once-thriving business corridor,” the Bee said.

But the Bee editorial board failed to acknowledge that Union Pacific and a big developer family owns the property and have a vested interest in development, whether Sacramento can afford it or not. And then the Bee delivered the final sucker punch: “The bridge represents an opportunity that should be embraced, not feared.”

There is no accountability with our City officials unless we demand it. This process has not been transparent, and the “extensive discussions” with property owners and residents have not been in any agreement about how to handle the additional traffic. Because the city of Sacramento is not being honest with residents about options, or admitting that they decided five years ago what they wanted to do.

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