By Lennie Roberts
The citizens working to preserve Half Moon Bay’s Main Street Bridge have begun circulating an Initiative Petition that, if approved by voters in November, would prohibit demolition or enlargement of the historic Main Street Bridge unless the voters approve it. Meanwhile the City Council voted on March 4 to place not one, but two ballot measures regarding the bridge on the June 4th ballot. These are: the City’s own measure titled the Main Street Bridge Safety and Accessibility Act (Measure E) and a substantially watered down and revised version of the citizen’s initiative, titled the Main Street Bridge Preservation Act (Measure F). The citizens are proceeding ahead to obtain the necessary signatures (653) to qualify for the November ballot, and have submitted arguments against Measure E and in support of Measure F.
Saving Main Street Bridge
Half Moon Bay’s Pilarcitos Creek Bridge, popularly known as the Main Street Bridge, was built across Pilarcitos Creek back in 1900. It was the first concrete bridge built in San Mateo County, and may well be the oldest pre-stressed concrete bridge in the world. The design is a closed spandrel concrete arch with steel reinforcement comprised of inch and a half braided steel and hemp cable that had previously been used in San Francisco’s cable system by the California Street Cable Car Company.
Today, 113 years after the bridge was opened, it continues in largely unaltered form as the scenic and iconic gateway to historic downtown Half Moon Bay. Residents and visitors alike have a sense of arrival at a calmer, gentler place as they drive, bicycle, or walk across the old bridge and enter the shopping district.
Back in September 2013, instead of investigating what the cost might be of repairing the historic bridge, the City Council voted 4-1 to demolish the bridge and replace it with a much wider, straighter structure. A wider, straighter bridge is not only unnecessary, but it would actually encourage higher speeds rather than calming traffic entering the historic downtown. Demolition and replacement with a larger bridge would also adversely impact Pilarcitos Creek and its riparian area, whereas repair would be far less impactful. Agencies including the California Coastal Commission, Army Corps of Engineers, and California Fish and Wildlife will also have to sign off on any project so this decision does not rest solely with the Council.
While safety was the purported reason Council members gave for destroying the bridge, they ignored recent independent engineering reports that the bridge is structurally sound and can be repaired and restored at relatively modest cost with less disruption to downtown businesses.
Several fatal steps leading up to the Council’s decision may well scuttle the demolition. The City is relying on federal bridge grant funds, but failed to acknowledge its historic status in its grant application back in 2010. Federal funds are not supposed to be used for repairs of historic bridges. Additionally, CGF, through a detailed letter from the law firm Wittwer & Parkin, has pointed out to the Council that by ruling out repair of the bridge, the Council has violated CEQA which requires consideration of alternatives at the earliest possible stage of decision making.
Half Moon Bay citizens of all political persuasions, the downtown merchants, environmentalists and historic preservationists have all vowed to “Save the Main Street Bridge.” With such a broad coalition coming to its rescue, there is little doubt that the bridge will indeed be saved. Yes it will take a lot of work, but it’s well worth it!