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By C. Jayden Smith
San Clemente Councilmember Steve Knoblock believes the city must address the “problematic” Mariposa Point Bridge, which is why he agendized this month a discussion on what the city’s done for the structure.
“I know there’s been some analysis and some communication with the property owner, but I think we need to get ahead of this,” Knoblock said. “If that earth moves out there again, we could have a catastrophic problem, not only from the collapse of the bridge, but from the earth movement.”
The steel bridge, which was initially constructed in 2005, has experienced corroding over time because of environmental factors such as exposure to the sea spray, and appears to have a shorter lifespan than first expected by the city, as evidenced by previous emergency work that has been done.
According to Jennifer Savage, assistant to the city manager, plans are in place to replace the bridge.
The Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget estimated the construction project to cost $2 million, which would consist of replacing about 1,000 feet of the trail bridge and conducting minor repairs to the existing bluff.
The budget also listed the repair and replacement of the bridge as a key initiative within the Public Works Department summary, and targeted a completion period for spring 2022.
Whenever the matter comes to the council next, there will be a staff report to determine how to handle the bridge that starts after the end of Avenida Mariposa and leads pedestrians to the beach.
Discussion of the Mariposa Bridge in itself is not new, as staff previously brought a separate report before the council in February 2021 that detailed replacement and construction options for the current structure.
Prior to the 2021 report’s release, the city used KPFF Consulting Engineers to provide an analysis that would direct the city to a replacement option that is corrosion resistant but also reuses the existing foundations.
“The need to replace the bridge is driven by the City’s desire to avoid costly and frequent bridge painting and repair that has been required over the bridge’s lifespan,” the report read.
A new bridge would also remove the need to perform “major maintenance” at an average cost of $2.5 million every 15 years in addition to the ongoing maintenance because of the potential corrosion of the steel structural elements.
KPFF recommended constructing a timber truss bridge, with an estimated lifespan of 50 years. By utilizing a launching style system that would remove and replace one bridge span at a time, the total cost of the project was estimated to be around $4.6 million.
During the 2021 meeting, Knoblock asked about the possibility of using an aluminum material, which would be less vulnerable to environmental factors than wood, and could be painted to better suit the area’s landscape.
“The weather there would be going through that paint, so we’ll have similar maintenance ongoing,” said Ziad Mazboudi, the former deputy public works director. “Our consultants said that, probably, the Coastal Commission wouldn’t support the aluminum as much as they would support the timber bridge.”
The council delayed the replacement of the bridge, and directed staff to hire a consultant that would help inspect the current bridge, provide an estimate of its remaining lifespan, and answer other council questions. The information gathered was presented to the council during its May 18, 2021 meeting.
After the city hired a structural engineering company to perform an inspection, the company found that several structural parts were corroded. The council last May unanimously approved an emergency contract with Jilk Heavy Construction, Inc., for $352,485 to provide immediate shoring and bracing.
During the meeting, Councilmember Chris Duncan said he thought it was necessary to find a long-term solution for Mariposa sooner than later, and that the council “can’t keep putting a Band-Aid on the problem” instead of making a permanent decision.
“It’s going to hurt a little bit because it’s going to cost, but I think it’s better to make that decision early before things get even worse and we spend more money on emergency shoring instead of on the long-term solution,” he said.
The agenda report for that meeting stated that the results of the aluminum option and the accompanying budget for the project would be presented to the council during the capital improvement budget deliberations in June.
Knoblock said that the bridge was in “rough shape” and in an “unsustainable” condition during an interview on Monday, Feb. 6, which is why he believes the city must provide a permanent fix before it risks any potential damage.
He disagreed with KPFF’s recommendation of a wood bridge and instead preferred the aluminum alternative, keeping consistent with his sentiment during the 2021 meeting.
“An aluminum bridge is more resistant to the natural elements of erosion, but people are concerned about the aesthetics of an aluminum bridge,” Knoblock said. “However, that can easily be fixed with painting or masking the shining character of aluminum.”
As of this posting on Friday afternoon, Feb. 11, the city’s agenda report for the next council meeting, scheduled for Feb. 15, had not yet been publicized.