Healdsburg City Hall apparently has convinced state and federal officials to spend millions of dollars to fix up a historic bridge over the Russian River.
Despite the initial qualms of Caltrans and federal highway engineers, Healdsburg officials obtained tentative approval for an approximate $12 million to $13 million upgrade of Healdsburg Memorial Bridge.
"It's big, excellent news. We walked away from the meeting feeling we really accomplished something," Vice Mayor Gary Plass said Wednesday of a recent meeting with the engineers.
Representatives from the Federal Highway Administration were willing to authorize the repairs to the 90-year-old bridge based on several conditions, one of which obligates the city to pay to maintain it in the future, said Plass and Public Works Director Mike Kirn, both of whom attended the meeting.
The cost of maintenance is estimated at $170,000 to $200,000 annually, Kirn said.
That is a significant enough sum that City Council members at their Jan. 3 meeting want to discuss how to pay for it and give the public a chance to weigh in.
"I think we want to commit," Plass said. "We need to make sure the community knows what it will take .<TH>.<TH>. it's tying our kids and our grandkids to maintain that bridge."
In a series of meetings and workshops last year to determine the bridge's future, residents overwhelmingly were in favor of keeping the 1920 steel-truss structure, as opposed to building a new, wider crossing, estimated to cost $25 million.
The City Council, bowing to preservationists and prevailing public opinion, made rehabilitation the "preferred alternative" for an ongoing environmental study of the bridge.
The rehab includes sandblasting and painting, repairing damaged structural members, installing a surface deck and making railing safety improvements. The city also wants to bolster the bridge to withstand flooding and erosion.
Despite the upgrades, the bridge still would be classified as "functionally obsolete," primarily because of its narrow travel lanes.
Neither federal engineers nor Caltrans returned calls on the topic this week. But city officials said the agencies were willing to authorize the rehabilitation on several conditions.
The first is for the city to install barriers to keep vehicles from hitting the sides of the bridge. Another is to slightly increase the height of the cross members on the bridge to better accommodate trucks.
And most importantly, they want the city to maintain the bridge indefinitely.
Kirn said the estimated $170,000 to $200,000 annual amount required could come from gas tax revenues.
Healdsburg gets approximately $300,000 a year in gas tax money, which is earmarked for street repairs. But that already falls short of what the city needs for street repairs.
"Deferred street maintenance is in the millions (of dollars)," Plass noted.
He said "we need to explore all avenues" to fund ongoing bridge maintenance. He said it could take the form of an additional property tax, which would have to be approved by voters. But Plass emphasized he was not advocating for that.
"We have to find the money somewhere. We have to have a conversation with the community," he said.