FORT BRAGG, 9/1/23 — Two planned overnight Pudding Creek Bridge closures coming up this week are part of a widening project underway since March; the project is expected to finish on schedule in November.
This coming Wednesday 9/6, and Thursday 9/7, the bridge will be closed to all traffic from 10 p.m to 4 a.m, as crews peel off and remove the east side of the bridge.
But the big talk in town this week was the unveiling of the new railings. When Caltrans removed its traffic light and reopened the bridge to through traffic both ways from last Friday through Sunday, an extra wide sidewalk was revealed, with decorative railings on both sides of the sidewalk. On the ocean/beach side, the railing features the images of salmon swimming through the rails. Each shiny steel salmon figure is welded onto the red iron railings in such a way to make it appear the fish to be diving, swimming or going up into the air. The east railing, once installed, will match the western railing.
The Pudding Creek Bridge on Highway 1 separates Fort Bragg on its north side; the city limits extend about another mile across the bridge. It’s the only way to get to coastal points to the north, such as Cleone, Inglenook and Westport. There is no detour other than to go all the way back to Highway 101, a journey of several hours. Past Westport, Highway 1 turns east into the redwood forest, joining 101 at Leggett.
People stopped on the bridge’s new sidewalk to take pictures of the salmon that seem to swim through the railing. Bridge railings were once a ferociously contentious issue on the Mendocino Coast. Fort Bragg residents argued fiercely against ocean view-blocking concrete “freeway” railings on both the Noyo and Ten Mile bridges in the early 2000s. Caltrans had insisted that the open railings residents wanted weren’t safe or economical and pushed forward. But residents won the battle. On the Ten Mile Bridge, the California Coastal Commission stunned Caltrans by turning down its completed and otherwise approved plans for the new bridge. The Coastal Commission demanded that a pedestrian walkway over the bridge be included and that Caltrans use railings that afforded ocean views. Caltrans designers had to work overtime and even at night to redesign the bridge. That redesigned railing became standard following the controversies over the Noyo and Ten Mile bridges in the first decade of the 21st century.
This time, Caltrans went above and beyond in its scenic design while also providing spacious sidewalks and traffic lanes.
Reopening the bridge to two-way traffic was made possible by the fact the new outside lane with shoulder is so much wider than the old bridge lanes. What will become the southbound lane on the west side of the bridge can accommodate two lanes of traffic.
The next flurry of work may start as soon as Labor Day, but probably will get going in earnest on Tuesday after the holiday. One-way traffic control at the Pudding Creek Bridge is planned from Labor Day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m through Friday Sept 8. Motorists can expect up to 10-minute delays, a Caltrans press release states. Through July and August, the bridge had one-way traffic control 24/7 by a traffic signal that was removed last Friday.
When the bridge is closed overnight Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 6-7, from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m, construction crews will be ready to escort emergency responders over the bridge during the full closures. No emergencies occurred during the first overnight closures in July. Caltrans spokesman Manny Machado said one-lane closures are possible through October.
The Pudding Creek Bridge widening project brings the bridge to modern standards. The old narrow sidewalk had no railing to separate it from the road, and two walkers couldn’t pass each other without one stepping into the roadway. Now people are protected from passing cars with an inside railing, which is also ornate red iron, although not with salmon images. Machado said the railings on the eastern side of the bridge, which provides a view of the Pudding Creek dam and migratory waterfowl, including swans introduced to the area by local residents long ago and now are endemic, will also feature the salmon design.
Salmon images are appropriate as Coho or silver salmon once migrated up Pudding Creek. The dam that impeded migration is now equipped with a fish ladder. Steelhead, which are trout that migrate back and forth to the ocean, unlike salmon that don’t make roundtrips, were also historically residents of Pudding Creek. Adult coho salmon once numbered in the tens of thousands in Pudding Creek. In recent years they have ranged from 1200 adults in 2006 to 20 adults in 2010 to 550 adults in 2020. There have been numerous restoration efforts. Drought hurts as Pudding Creek is very difficult for salmon to escape from or migrate into, even during wet years. It rarely flows into the ocean as more than a trickle.
New bridge is much wider
The new lanes are 12 feet wide and include two eight-foot-wide shoulders, two six-foot-wide walkways, and the new bridge railings. The shoulders won’t be used as actual shoulders until the bridge is complete and both lanes are open. No further overnight closures are scheduled.
The project also includes “Complete Streets” improvements — sidewalks have been constructed on both sides of Route 1 from Pudding Creek Bridge south to Elm Street and north to Pudding Creek Drive, drainage is improved, and the City of Fort Bragg’s sanitary sewer and waterlines from the Pudding Creek Dam to Route 1 have been relocated.
Although residents worried that the widening project would cause mile-long tie-ups and hurt tourism, Caltrans traffic engineers predicted a much lesser impact. Most residents agree that Caltrans turned out to be right. The Voice surveyed 10 residents who use the bridge regularly both before and after the closure, and none found it to be as bad as they feared.
Next summer the Highway 1 Jack Peters Creek Bridge at the north end of the village of Mendocino is set to be replaced. Following that in summer 2025, the Highway 1 Hare Creek Bridge on the south end of Fort Bragg is set to be widened and railings replaced. Hare Creek is nearly identical to the Pudding Creek Bridge in its size, age and problems. . Inspection reports and interviews indicate that both bridges will have to be widened in the same way. Machado didn’t know for sure if overnight closures would occur on those projects.
Read our previous coverage here:
- Pudding Creek bridge-widening project underway • The Mendocino Voice
- Single lane starts Monday on Fort Bragg’s Pudding Creek Bridge, will last till Aug. 29
For more information, visit https://dot.ca.gov/caltrans-near-me/district-1/d1-projects/puddingcreekbridge.