FORT BRAGG, 2/24/23 — Caltrans, with contractor MCM Construction, has started work on the $8,529,488.00 Pudding Creek bridge-widening project. Although most work will be done at night, expect delays through September for those driving between Fort Bragg and Westport. The Pudding Creek Bridge has long been one of the safest bridges on the coast, and despite efforts, The Mendocino Voice has not received full information from Caltrans about why this bridge was prioritized over projects like replacing the Salmon Creek bridge, which Caltrans once said was a safety priority. In the past, Caltrans would identify which bridges most needed replacement and answer questions about why work was being done where and when.
“Caltrans has approved the contractor’s request to start work early to minimize traffic impacts during the summer,” said Caltrans spokesman Manny Machado. “A public meeting is being coordinated to discuss the project schedule, required bridge closures, and the emergency response access plan.”
Already some lanes have been shut down during the night, and the project will see closures of both the north and south lanes. More closures are expected in the coming weeks. The date of the public meeting to discuss timing and closures has not been announced, but actual bridge-widening will start in June.
The railings are crumbling, the bridge has been deemed too narrow, and the new bridge will include sidewalks on both sides compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The contract demands a 90-day duration for the actual bridge-widening that presumably will begin in June. Caltrans has allowed them to start now, as there are many sewer and water pipes involved and other issues. Between now and then the contractor will be relocating a sewer main attached directly to the outside railing of the west side of the bridge and installing hangers for the future relocation of a city water line. Pile driving, strictly regulated to not cause damage to bird nesting will also begin, perhaps to space out the work so as not to create impacts all at once.
A Caltrans environmental report from 2020 shows that the schedule is determined by numerous environmental and logistical issues.
Caltrans Bridge inspection reports always showed that the 300-foot Pudding Creek Bridge, built in 1959, was rated to be one of the safest of all the bridges on the entire coast. Wisely, it was built of concrete and has a unique support system that incorporates two different superstructure designs in a way unique to this bridge.
The bridge would be widened from 41 feet to approximately 57 feet. The new bridge will have two 12-foot-wide lanes, two 8-foot-wide shoulders, two 6-foot walkways and new bridge railings to meet current standards. The project also features constructing sidewalks on both sides of HWY 1 from Pudding Creek Bridge south to Elm Street and north from Elm Street towards Pudding Creek Drive (it apparently stops short of the drive itself). The project also includes drainage improvements and relocation of the City of Fort Bragg’s waterline from the Pudding Creek Dam to SR 1. New bridge lighting would be installed in the pedestrian rail. The lighting would be low to the ground and illuminate only the sidewalks and roadway. Pudding Creek Bridge was previously retrofitted for earthquake safety in 1998, resulting in many traffic delays. The bridge is not being replaced for safety reasons, other than the crumbling railings, which are obviously in immediate need of attention (see photo). Caltrans documents state the reason for replacement is not structural but related to the railings and the narrow sidewalks and other ADA issues.
A 2020 Caltrans report states, “The rails on the structure have been identified as deficient with concrete spalls and exposed and corroded rebar. The structure appears on the list of eligible bridges for rail upgrades. The existing shoulder width for the structure is two feet, which does not provide adequate room for disabled vehicles or maneuvers by a vehicle to avoid a collision, adequate shoulder width to accommodate bicycle traffic, or a separated walkway to accommodate pedestrians.”
“Bridge deck widening requires removal of the existing sidewalk, bridge rails, asphalt concrete, and other bridge deck components. A crane would place the 32 precast, prestressed girders (16 on each side of the structure) on the widened abutments and existing piers. The crane would be placed on the work pads adjacent to the abutments depending on where workis occurring. Existing joint seals would be replaced and extended. A polyester concrete overlay would be placed on the bridge deck,” the report states.
Here is a list of all the current Caltrans bridge projects:
One reason for the priority choice might be that the price tag is much lower for widening Pudding Creek than replacing bridges that have issues, like Salmon Creek Bridge and Jug Handle Creek Bridge. The next bridge on Caltrans’ list is the Jack Peters Creek Bridge, just north of Mendocino. It is one of three bridges built during the Great Depression with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stimulus money. That bridge, like Pudding Creek, is narrower than most other bridges and has poor public sidewalks. It was always rated a safe bridge by comparison to the others.. The Russian Gulch and Jughandle Creek are the other two bridges built by FDR’s stimulus programs that helped pull the nation out of the Great Depression. On the Mendocino Coast, both Cotton Auditorium and Mendocino Woodlands camp were also constructed using those funds.
“The Jack Peters Creek Bridge widening and rail upgrade project is moving forward,” Machado said “The project team is preparing the contract documents, and the project is expected to advertise for bids in June.”
MCM Construction is a Sacramento-based contractor for numerous projects in this region and elsewhere. The firm specializes in bridges and built the Confusion Hill Bridge, which is higher off the water than the Golden Gate Bridge at one point and utilized environmental innovations to protect the Eel River that were featured in publications all over the world and have often been copied.
The Mendocino Voice is seeking bridge inspection reports. This reporter has gotten these in years past. While the list sounds long, all the bridge inspection reports are in one place and in the past delivery took minutes. We have been waiting for three months. A private company used to obtain all these reports and turn them into excel documents that were used regularly by the New York Times, PBS and dozens of other media sources. After widespread publicity about “structurally deficient bridges,” an engineering classification that sounded worse than it was, many states, including California, have made bridge inspection reports harder to get. Caltrans has not said it will not release them but months have passed without any being released, especially the single report identified as a priority — the Pudding Creek Bridge report.
The following is the response I got Feb 21, 2023 to a request filed in November 2022.
RE: Public Records Request of November 18, 2022, Reference # R019890-111822
Dear Frank Hartzell,
On November 18, 2022, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) received your request for records under the Public Records Act (PRA) wherein you requested the following:
I would like to get all bridge inspection reports from 2019-2022 for the Highway 1 Pudding Creek Bridge in Fort Bragg CA. These would be the reports filed by inspectors after looking at the bridge. I would also like to get the latest plans for the bridge upgrade project scheduled for 2023. If that is available by a link, that is fine. I am interested in the work on sidewalks and other upgrades happening in concert with the bridge, so any documents about this project available.
2. I would like to get any bridge inspection reports for the non highway bridge, the Pudding Creek trestle , a public walkway owned by state parks about 70 yards to the west of the highway bridge.
Those are my urgent requests
I would also like to request:
Inspection reports 2019-2022 for the Noyo River Bridge, Hare Creek Bridge, Jughandle Creek Bridge, Caspar Creek Bridge, Jack Peters Creek Bridge, Big River Bridge, Little River Bridge, Albion Bridge and Salmon Creek Bridge. I would also like to get the year in which each of these bridges is scheduled for replacement.
I would also like to get the timetable for any bridge replacement or bridge upgrade work in Mendocino County. (Not to include routine maintenance).
Caltrans is in the process of gathering and reviewing the requested records. Your request will take extra time to fulfill because of the need to:
Please be advised, due to the scope of your request, the volume of potentially responsive records and the need to review those records to determine whether a privilege or privileges apply such that release of the records would not be appropriate, we continue to work on your request. The Department preserves the right to exempt records under the CPRA if they are protected under an applicable privilege including but not limited to the attorney-client communication, attorney work product or deliberative process privileges. (See, Government Code section 7927.705; League of California Cities v. Superior Court (2015)241 Cal.App.4th 976; Wilson v. Superior Court (1996) 51Cal.App.4th 1136)
Consequently, Caltrans is exercising its authority under Government Code section 7922.535, to extend the time to reply to a Public Records Act request. You will receive a further, more complete response no later than March 20, 2023.
Thank you for your patience in awaiting this information.
Jessica Henry Gibbs
I wonder about the Hare Creek bridge – the railings are badly deteriorated.
What Pudding Creek really needs is a stoplight on the corner of Pudding Creek Road and Hiway 1. Dangerous!!