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Retrofit of bridge enters final design stage

DEL MAR — City Council unanimously adopted and certified the environmental document that will allow the seismic retrofit of the North Torrey Pines Bridge to enter the final design stage.
The move to approve the final mitigated negative declaration at the Dec. 1 meeting was key to funding the $30 million project. About 80 percent of that money will come from the federal government. For the remaining 20 percent, the city will apply for funds from Proposition 1B, a 2006 voter-approved bond initiative that helps pay for state and local transportation improvement projects. The city can’t apply for those funds without a final design, which couldn’t be completed without the approved environmental document.
The project is expected to go out to bid this summer, with construction slated to take place from June 2010 to February 2013.
Built in 1933, the 75-year-old bridge was deemed one of the worst in the state as far as its ability to withstand an earthquake. The retrofit will extend the structure’s life by about 50 years. The entire bridge deck will be removed. Each portion will be replaced and then restored with only minor changes to retain the historic design features.
“When it’s done I don’t think you’ll be able to tell the difference,” Councilwoman Crystal Crawford said. “It will be a safer bridge, but it will look the same. And in fact, it’s going to look a lot better because it’s been declining for some time. I can’t wait to cut the ribbon in a few years.”
In addition to a slight height increase, the bridge will be widened so a sidewalk can be added.
Dec. 1 marked the third public hearing on the environmental review process, which addressed everything from aesthetics to utilities.
“So ultimately we had to address and look at all of these in a very detailed fashion,” interim Planning Director Brian Mooney said. “However, as in any other project, the environmental review process ends up focusing on a couple of key areas.” Those included air quality, biological resources, noise, traffic, hazardous materials, and cultural and paleontological resources.
During the public review period from Oct. 15 through Nov. 13, the city received about a half dozen comments and questions from residents and organizations, including the Department of Toxic Substances Control, Public Utilities Commission, California Department of Fish and Game and San Diego Archaeological Society.
“There are over 61 archaeological resources identified within a half-mile area,” Mooney said. “This is considered a very sensitive area so we have very detailed mitigation measures for that.”
“I think an indication that we’ve done a lot of solid work on this project is that we had so few letters,” Crawford said.
Mooney said every person or group that submitted a question or comment received a detailed response.
Because the project has been in the works for a few years, there was little council discussion. Crawford received assurance that erosion control measures such as fiber rolls that use hay or grass would be free of invasive plants or seeds. She also expressed concern about trapping bats. Mooney said all bats will be cleared out by certified experts before construction begins.
Bobbette Biddulph, who oversaw preparation of the environmental analysis, said netting and other exclusionary devices will be put in place prior to the roosting season that begins in March and runs through November.
“At the same time we would provide an alternative habitat for them — a bat house, basically,” said Biddulph, a principal with EDAW Inc., an architectural and environmental consulting company working with the city. She said the main issue will be timing, something Mayor Dave Druker was also concerned about.
He wanted to ensure that obtaining necessary permits from the city of San Diego wouldn’t delay the project.
“I don’t see it as difficult,” Mooney said. “I see it as time consuming.”
“They need to make sure that they are bellying up to the bar to get all the permits in place so that we can quickly do this rather than wait … because that’s one of the reasons they sold us the bridge,” Druker said.
The bridge, which connects Camino del Mar with North Torrey Pines Road, borders the city of San Diego. When the two cities couldn’t agree on whether to replace or restore the aging bridge, Druker negotiated with San Diego in 2000 to buy the structure for $1.
The bridge was designated historic during Councilman Henry Abarbanel’s first term on City Council. So adopting the final document that moves the project into its final stages seemed appropriate as it was essentially the last meeting for Druker and Abarbanel, who both retired from council this year.