The future of a bicycle and pedestrian bridge alongside Highway 246 over Alamo Pintado Creek was put on hold Monday night by the Solvang City Council.
Whether or not it will be built hinges on a complex juggling act, balancing potential cost savings, lost grant funding, additional future costs and increased financial liability to come up with the best solution for the city.
The council is considering dropping the project because Caltrans engineers reviewing the city’s plans performed new calculations that show it will cause increased scouring around the existing vehicle bridge at that location.
As a result, Caltrans will require the city to add a $30,000 “scour monitoring” system to the pedestrian bridge, raising the project’s cost to $1.22 million, said Matt van der Linden, public works director and city engineer.
Caltrans also indicated the bicycle/pedestrian bridge could increase flooding problems for adjacent businesses by slowing the water flow and collecting debris, leaving the city liable for any resulting damages, van der Linden said.
“We could be assuming a lot of responsibility if something happens if we go ahead with the pedestrian bridge,” Councilman Hans Duus said. “I think we better back off for awhile.”
But in reviewing the city’s plans for the bike/pedestrian bridge, Caltrans engineers also found deficiencies in the agency’s own vehicle bridge, prompting them to recommend replacing it.
That presents another complication for the bike/pedestrian bridge, because the city might have to tear it down and move it to another location when Caltrans replaces the vehicle bridge — at an additional cost to the city.
“I hate to see us build a bridge and have to tear it down,” Duus said.
On the other hand, when Caltrans does build a new bridge, van der Linden said, it will almost certainly include bicycle and pedestrian paths because the agency has a “complete streets” policy.
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“I agree we should back off and let Caltrans do the full construction,” Councilman Neill Zimmerman said.
Van der Linden said there’s no guarantee when the bridge might be replaced because it will have to be prioritized along with other Caltrans District 5 projects.
But he said Caltrans indicated a contribution of city funds to the project would increase its priority.
If design work on the bike/pedestrian bridge is halted now, the city will have about $163,000 left over from Indian Gaming funds designated for bridge widening and replacement, which could be added to the city’s $559,000 share of the pedestrian bridge and contributed to the Caltrans project.
The problem is that canceling the bicycle/pedestrian bridge could mean losing the $600,000 in Measure A funds allocated for the project by the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.
“If we don’t build this, can we hold onto the funds?” Mayor Jim Richardson asked.
“No,” City Manager Brad Vidro responded, adding the city would have to apply to SBCAG for that.
“If we don’t use the money, we lose it forever,” Richardson said. “Can we set it aside and hold it for a future project?”
Van der Linden said probably not, noting the SBCAG staff has already indicated the funding would be withdrawn if the project is canceled.
“I agree with eliminating any liability,” Richardson said. “But before we make a decision, let’s get with SBCAG to see if we can hold the funds for a future project.”
By consensus, the council authorized city staff to ask the full SBCAG board to discuss the proposal to decide if the city can contribute the funds and get a bridge replacement programmed sooner.
“We’ll return to this item sometime in the future,” Richardson said.