Healdsburg City Council members are leaning toward offering a shuttle service to ferry pedestrians and cyclists around the historic Healdsburg Memorial Bridge while it is closed for planned renovations.
The council voted 4-1 on Monday to explore the possible cost and scope of such a project, which would help preserve the steady flow of Wine Country tourists who use the bridge to get into town. Vice Mayor Jim Wood was the only dissenting voice.
Mayor Susan Jones said council members would prefer to keep the bridge partially open during construction, offering access through some kind of covered lane, similar to the way crews cover sidewalks during building construction in urban areas. That would cost as much as $300,000, however, and there is no guarantee it would qualify for state or federal grants to offset the costs.
"We're still looking at a $485,000 deficit in the general fund," the budget that funds most city services, she said. "We realized that we can't choose that option on the possibility that we might get funding."
The shuttle likely would carry people into town using Highway 101, which is closed to cyclists and pedestrians.
Public Works Director Mike Kirn told the council that the shuttle might cost something closer to $100,000, though he plans to request proposals from private transportation companies to get a better sense whether it really is a more cost-effective alternative, Jones said.
Even if the city can't find grants to offset the cost of a shuttle, she said, "We thought we could manage that expense."
Wood said he voted against the shuttle because he is worried that it will not work as well as intended.
"If we're going to get people across the river in a reasonable way, it ought to be something when they have access all the time, not just when the shuttle is there," he said.
Council member Tom Chambers, an avid cyclist, said the shuttle option is far from ideal, but the matter has been under discussion for so many years that it was time to make some kind of decision in order to complete an environmental impact report on the bridge reconstruction. The renovation project is being funded mostly by Caltrans, and the city cannot afford to risk losing that money by delaying the start of construction and antagonizing Caltrans.
"Caltrans didn't want us to rehab the bridge; they wanted a new bridge," he said. "It took a great deal of effort to get what the citizens of Healdsburg want."
Chambers said he hopes the shuttle could be supplemented by existing services in the city and county transit services.
"We want to be creative and inconvenience as few people as possible," he said.
The one possibility that is probably off the table is doing nothing. The century-old bridge is set to close sometime this year for at least 18 months of renovation. Without some alternative way of getting into town, cyclists would be forced on a 10-mile detour to cross the Russian River at a bridge north of Forestville.
Downtown businesses worry the bridge closure will cut off the lucrative flow of recreational cyclists who come through town, in addition to inconveniencing local recreational and commuter cyclists. The closure would also complicate pedestrian access to Healdsburg Memorial Beach.
City officials had hoped to divert foot and bike traffic onto the nearby railroad bridge, but the North Coast Railroad Authority vetoed the idea, saying it hopes to resume freight rail traffic in the near future, Jones said.
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