The project to replace the historic Seventh Street Bridge is headed for a final hurdle later this month.
A final environmental study recommends an option to tear down Modesto’s iconic “Lion Bridge” and replace it with a standard bridge on the same alignment.
The study by the consulting firm CH2M Hill says the plan was chosen because it is the least costly and the one supported by the California Department of Transportation.
Officials say that funding from Caltrans is critical for replacing the 100-year-old bridge over the Tuolumne River. The state transportation agency has said it would not fund an option that called for a more attractive and expensive span.
A proposed tied-arch bridge would cost an extra $10 million, Stanislaus County Public Works Director Matt Machado said. The county and Modesto would need to cover the extra cost for the arch bridge.
Machado said a tied-arch bridge “would have been really unique. It was the leading alternative until we got word from Caltrans the federal government would not fund it.”
The total project costs for the standard demolition and replacement are estimated at $50 million. Caltrans is responsible for 88 percent of the cost.
The county Board of Supervisors is set to make the final decision and could certify the environmental study at its regular meeting at 9 a.m. May 23.
The preservation of the Seventh Street Bridge’s historic lions is not guaranteed in the environmental study.
Before the bridge is demolished, the study says, the county will investigate the feasibility of removing the concrete lions. The plan calls for relocating one or more lions to a pedestrian plaza, where the bridge will link up with a gateway to Tuolumne Regional Park.
Copies of the lions could be made if the original ones are too deteriorated. Other historic features, including an obelisk and bronze plaques, will be incorporated in the plaza.
Options for retrofitting and preserving the Seventh Street Bridge were tossed out because of the expense. Officials were afraid of unexpected costs because the condition of the underlying steel structure is not known.
Removing the concrete to expose the steel, and determine the needed repairs, would destroy the historic integrity of the bridge, a city report said. The bridge designed in the Beaux Arts architectural style dates to 1916.
The 1,100-foot-long span is unable to support large trucks. County officials believe it has one of the worst sufficiency ratings in the state, meaning it does not meet the demands placed on it. Engineers say the bridge is safe.
In February, the Modesto City Council approved the demolish-and-replace option with a standard four-lane bridge and plaza. That is also the recommendation of county staff.
In response to comments at an Aug. 29 public hearing, the EIR says the county and Modesto have agreed to improve the intersections at Highway 99 and Crows Landing Road, and Highway 99 and Tuolumne Boulevard, to handle an anticipated increase in traffic.
Some property needs to be purchased and utilities moved before bridge construction begins in 2020.
Machado said the Seventh Street crossing will be closed for about two years for the demolition and construction. A temporary crossing will be built for pedestrians, he said.
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16