Comment period on environmental review ends Wednesday
Another Calaveras County bridge replacement project – this one where Hawver Road crosses the North Fork Calaveras River not far from Jesus Maria Road – is hitting some public resistance.
“It is the story of our time where a long series of good intentions added up to overkill,” said John Fletcher, who owns the property on both sides of the proposed bridge.
Right now, cars roll over what is really just a crossing with
culverts set in concrete. The problem is that it becomes impassable during high water. The proposed solution is a
295-foot-long bridge that would be above the floods. The price tag is estimated to be about $3 million.
And while an all-weather bridge seems sensible to commuters headed to jobs or to government agency representatives who might have to dispatch emergency vehicles, others see it as a disruption to the rural landscape.
“I see this as a Mark Twain story in the making: ‘The Celebrated Boondoggle of Calaveras County.’ The bridge to nowhere in the middle of nowhere,” Fletcher said.
Similar objections to the size of a proposed bridge replacement have been aired in recent months in Calaveritas. There, residents have been signing petitions and complaining that a proposed two-lane bridge doesn’t fit in their one-lane town.
Mark Davis, a senior engineer with the Calaveras County Public Works department said that he and his colleagues are taking it all in stride. Public comment periods are part of the environmental review for all such projects. A comment period ends Wednesday, for example, on the Hawver Road bridge project.
“And the environmental review is not just bugs and bunnies. It is also the people and how it affects them,” Davis said.
Engineering staff are proposing what is known as a “mitigated negative declaration” for the Hawver project. That means that the project is expected not to have any environmental impacts that can’t be mitigated so that they are deemed less than significant.
During a meeting Feb. 27 at the Hawver crossing site, Davis said he told concerned neighbors about options for changing the design to make it less visually intrusive. Instead of a solid concrete wall on the side of the bridge, for example, engineers could design rows of columns or steel tubes.
“We are going to use a barrier that’s got daylight coming through it, so it has less thickness when you look at it from the side. It does not appear to be as monolithic,” Davis said.
Some neighbors have asked that the bridge be smaller. Davis said that engineers have evaluated designs for a shorter bridge that involved some earthmoving to make the shorter span possible. But pushing earth into the streambed to build bridge footings would have backed water upstream, thus increasing flooding in those areas.
“The process is to not cause any effect upstream,” Davis said.
Bridges and other road projects have become sometimes-touchy issues in recent years as some residents have balked at unwanted changes or the price tags involved, while others want crumbling infrastructure replaced and improved.
And managing the sporadic grant funding from state and federal agencies at a time of shrinking local revenues has also been a headache for local officials. It was less than a year ago that the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors had to reluctantly agree to give up on about $57 million in federal funding for road projects because the county doesn’t have the $10 million match required.
Sometimes, when federal or state money has already been spent on a local project and the project later gets canceled, then the local government may have to return some of the already-spent money.
When asked if that could happen should the Hawver Road bridge be canceled, Davis said “That is a strong possibility.”
Davis said he currently has 15 bridge-replacement projects that are in some stage of development. One in Rail Road Flat is expected to go into construction this year. Another on Stagecoach Road in the Diamond XX subdivision near Copperopolis is expected to be ready for construction within a few years, he said.
For information on bridge replacement projects, go to the Public Works Web page at publicworks.calaverasgov.us/PublicWorksHome.aspx.
Although engineers design the proposals for bridge replacements, it is ultimately elected leaders who decide whether they will be built.
“We aren’t forcing these bridges on these people. We are trying to keep the transportation system going,” Davis said.