When it comes to driving across the Healdsburg Avenue bridge, Healdsburg Mayor Lisa Schaffner said Monday, "I drive my kids over it, but if I felt a twinge of an earthquake and I was driving over the bridge, I would gun it."
Schaffner is not the only one who admits to qualms about the narrow, structurally questionable span across the Russian River, which is rated the worst in Sonoma County.
"When you see a large van drive across, it makes you think twice," said City Manager Chet Wystepek.
On Monday, City Council members unanimously agreed to move ahead with environmental studies to replace the vintage steel-truss bridge with a concrete span. But they acknowledged that by the time the studies are done, the council may choose to simply strengthen the existing bridge.
The possibility of preserving the 1920s-era bridge, which history buffs and others have urged, was bolstered late Monday by a Healdsburg resident, an electrical engineer who told the council that a 1979 Caltrans formula that ranked the bridge the worst in the county was flawed.
"The whole thing was suspect to me. That's why I dug into it," said Mel Amato, who told the council that in essence the bridge is in much better shape than believed and can bear three times as much as the 17-ton truck limit now in place.
While council members were impressed by Amato's analysis and mathematical calculations, they still decided to go ahead with a tentative plan to replace the structure, so that federal funding can be secured if that becomes the eventual choice.
City officials have been debating off and on since at least 1990 what to do about the aging bridge, which has served as the southern gateway to Healdsburg, part of the Old Redwood Highway before Highway 101 was built to the west.
Last year's collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis that killed a dozen people lent new urgency to fixing or replacing the bridge, also known as the Memorial Beach bridge.
It has an even worse rating than the bridge in the Midwest catastrophe.